Review: The Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2015
Who doesn’t want to be an astronaut…We all fantasise about being in space, whether it’s us soaring amongst the stars, (like Homer in that episode when NASA launches the babe into space, and he elegantly floats and chomps at gravity-defying crisps to a classical soundtrack of Strauss II…minus the bit when he smashes into an ant farm…(why take ants? Ants would definitely out-organise us in space. They are way too organised for my liking.) But if one things for sure, we all definitely fantasise about encountering a fluorescent alien species that blow heart shaped bubbles out of their ears and drink custard in place of water. So get your astronaut gear (you know, that full space kit we all have at the back of our wardrobes…) and prepare to enter a vortex into the depths of the unknown. First stop: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
Nestled within some shrubbery in the East End, a white pod protrudes. The pod lays atop the Royal Observatory – like a beacon of hope, the white blob signals the advent of my space adventure. The Astronomy Photographer of year 2015 is being held here, in the Astronomy Centre. This is an annual event to discover the dreamiest snaps of the cosmos, amongst amateurs and professionals alike. The winning astrophotographs are handpicked gems revealing the extraordinary (literally extra – ordinary!) universe we reside in.
The nine categories include: Aurorae – Galaxies – Our Moon – Our Sun – Planets, Comets & Asteroids – Skyscapes – Stars & Nebulae – People & Space. In a league of its own is the Young Competition. With entrants aged 15 or under, with some sprouts aged just seven! this section is bloody brilliant. I didn’t even know studying space was a thing at that age, let alone acing a prestigious worldwide competition! Budding young astronomers in the making right here.
The winner of the whole competition, the crème de la crème of dust particle formations, was Eclipse Totality Over Sassendalen, by Luc Jamet (France). It captures the 2015 solar eclipse in Svalbard in Norway. Beautifully tranquil and just pure therapy for the eyes, this is a snap and a half (get it? ‘half’ because the sun is being partially blocked by the moon?!!!) My utter most favourite of the glorious lot hangs in the Aurorae section. It is ‘Silky Skies’ by Jamen Percy (Australia), snapped in Abisko National Park in Lapland, Sweden. It had most resonance (currently my screensaver). One look at the hues of aqua blue and I am immediately immersed into its calm. The mountain edges only add to its otherworldliness. It is at once immensely empowering, yet, soothingly serene.
Visions from above have been captured from across the world, with camera switches flicking from the Atacama Dessert in Chile to the Gamsberg Pass in Namibia. I just love the thought of loads of people having their head in the clouds! It’s a given that the visual stimulation on show is unrivalled. From trippy auroras to never-ending galaxies, the exhibition ranges from the eerily beautiful to the utterly breath-taking. It’s like magic on tap. The Northern lights smear the sky with its fairy fluorescence. Clusters of stars glitter in pure brilliance. Galaxies shimmer and swirl in a spell-bounding fashion: a physicist’s celestial dream!
Some sweet treats were captured in the most unsuspecting of places. Like who knew Sunderland could be a hot spot for some breath-taking noctilucent clouds? Or that the best vision of the brightest star Sirius, which should really be more appropriately named the psychedelic glow stick, was taken in my very own Finchley Central in North London! (Nothing ever happens there… guess finch town is on to better intergalactic things)
Witness our universe and it’s kaleidoscope of colour -lilac, sapphire, gold, scarlet, turquoise, emerald, – the intergalactic rainbows will mesmerise your eyeballs, as well as your soul. Attached descriptions delve into philosophical territory. One reads ‘man is so small compared with the cosmos, but we come from there. We are connected with the cosmos. The connection between the earthly and heavenly, between the eternal and instantaneous – these thoughts occur when the mind contemplates eternity. They are a source of deep spiritual experiences.’ The profundity of this extract gives me shivers. I’m shiverin’ in me timbers as it reflects on the fact that we are essentially composed of space dust, and that any feeling of separateness is an allusion as everything is deeply interlinked, in which, we are all ultimately one. This reminds me of something Alan Watts once said: ‘looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations’. With this, Watts blows our mind with the idea that there is no judging in space, but that things simply exist and ‘are as they are’… woiiii… An idea that seems as foreign to us as the gloopy green googly-eyed aliens out there.
As someone once said, (paraphrasing here) ‘the universe created us solely so the universe could be aware of itself’. Mind blown.
You just can’t help looking at these astro visions and not marvelling at the photographers’ efforts, at the phenomenal lengths taken to get that golden shot. Despite enduring temperatures way below freezing, many a’ night with icicle encrusted eyebrows, the fruits of their labour are all too plain to see. Also, with such detailed precision, I don’t even want to think about the gruelling technicalities of it all!
Don’t despair, because you can be educated with a quick glare! My rhyme refers to a room which dedicates itself to the history of space knowledge, marking the stages of our progression, with a timeline that journeys from thinking the earth was flat, to landing man on the moon and sending satellites to mars! Woo to humans and their wisdom. There’s also a video dedicated to how a guy with no Science background (holla) got involved with astronomy. Dream. One can only wish.
On top of this, I copped a hot ticket to The Planetarium Show. This was a spherical room, where a short space film was projected onto the oval ceiling above. As I sunk into my reclining chair, I was catapulted into the depths of the universe. The experience was sensational and hugely realistic. This is the only time I can say I’ve been truly in awe – the kind of awe you find in movies, when your eyes reach new limits of wideness with your lips slightly parted in speechlessness. The planetarium is a must, as after all, no trip is complete without some virtual space simulation, right?
Also, bear witness to where time first began. The Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) clock ticks away outside. An important looking clock indeed, it stands at an impressive size and is adorned with an overload of incomprehensible roman numerals. But sorry, can we please address the fact that the whole worlds time is regulated by the tick tock of lil ol’ Greenwich…?! That of all places in the world, they decided on this little dockland town seems very random, and of course, very amusing.
Pop outside and find yourself on the vast grounds of Greenwich Park. Amass with fluffy squirrels and green parakeets, the park could be mistaken for a springtime Narnia with all the woodland critters. P.s don’t be alarmed by the peculiar shaped trees that look like gelatinous bulbous things of oak mid-melting. It adds to the Narnia feel. The Observatory is also home to one of the best views of London, so jump as you please between nature and the city, and into the River Thames if you really wish (I wouldn’t).
With panorama shots of colourful constellations, to close up shots of our sun, things can get pretty fiery in the Observatory. A trip to the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2015 is like no other, and if it’s of any reference, it ranks as one of my fabbest outings this summer (I’m a nerd, I know). Also, don’t leave empty handed and take a swing by the gift shop brimming with space merch. Grabbed a cheeky butterfly-nebula poster for myself. With free admission, and open until 26th June 2016, go rocket yourself over to the Royal Observatory space cadet.
Housten, we have no problems here.