View our gallery of beautiful planispheres through the ages
  Despite the leaps and bounds in stargazing smartphone apps and astronomy tech, planispheres remain one of the amateur astronomer’s most reliable tools.   Author and planisphere collector Peter Grimwood presents a history of these night-sky navigators in pictures, with a selection of examples taken from the 200 that make up his new book Card Planispheres: A Collector’s Guide.         A planisphere is a map of part of the celestial sphere that can be adjusted to match the positions of the stars in the night sky for a particular time and location.   Initially developed around 200 BC as the metallic ‘planispheric astrolabe’, the modern-day planisphere is usually made of card or plastic discs with a rotating oval 'horizon' to reveal the stars visible overhead.   You simply turn the top rotating disc to match the direction you’re facing with the current date and - lo and behold - you get a map of the constellations and asterisms in the sky above.   The basic idea has been around for centuries and, depending who you believe, was invented by Eudoxus of Cnidus (a Greek mathematician),  Hypatia (a Greek astronomer) or Vitruvius (a Roman architect and engineer).   Here's a selection of some of my personal favourites, showing how this simple but effective design has been adopted for astronomers in different regions of the world.   (All images are copyright Peter Grimwood)             A big one from the USA at around 15.5 inches square, this one was made in 1866 by Henry Whitall. He made both round and square planispheres with either stars on a dark blue background, or (like this one) a background featuring the mythical constellation figures.             This one is Argentinean and printed in Spanish. It has a southern hemisphere starmap on one side (aperture for 35oS for Buenos Aires) and a Northern Hemisphere starmap on the other (45oN for Madrid). It dates from around 1960.             A Swiss "Zodiac" planisphere made in 1946. Also double sided, but this time both sides are for the northern hemisphere. One is the view to the north, the other the view to the south. This is clever way of reducing the distortion of the constellations being projected on a flat sheet.             The 1985/6 return of Halley's comet was only really visible in the southern hemisphere, and here is a planisphere that includes the track of the comet with dates overprinted on the star field. It was printed by Astroprom Australia Pty Ltd.             Here’s another big one from the US. Hammond’s Improved Planisphere is 16 inches square and was produced around 1925. It has the unusual feature of a horizon aperture that can be adjusted for a range of latitudes.              Printed in 1837 by London globe and map makers George and John Cary, this 15-inch square planisphere has both a rotating starmap and a rotating horizon aperture.             Horizon apertures vary according to the latitude of the observer. This 1925 planisphere produced in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) has the semicircular cut-out needed for use on the equator.             The UK-based company of George Philip and Sons produced this combination planisphere and orrery in 1914. Rather basic, the two arms had movable buttons to show the position of the Sun and one other planet.             Showing the nearly circular horizon aperture for 65oN, this planisphere is designed for use in Sweden, Norway and Finland.             Virtually unchanged in design from 1906 to 1960, this 15-inch square 'Star and Planet Finder' has a thick starmap that is designed to have a set of planet pins stuck into the plane of the ecliptic, their positions given by planet tables supplied with the planisphere.      
Our pick of the best auroral astrophotos sent in by you
  Aurorae are some of the most spectacular astronomical phenomenon, and make for incredible astrophotos.   The beautiful wisps of colour seen in an auroral display are the result of energetic particles emitted by the Sun generating reactions in the upper atmosphere of Earth, and indeed other planets. This releases photons of light, creating magnificent colourful light shows.   Below we’ve selected some of the best auroral images sent in by readers over the past few years.   If you manage to capture aurora, upload your image to our Hotshots gallery and it could appear in BBC Sky at Night Magazine!         Richard Jenkinson   Nellim, Finland, 2 March 2017   Equipment: Sony A77V, 14mm lens.   Richard says: “We had a real treat of colours; green, pink and white at one stage. This continued for well over an hour, and at one point nearly the whole sky was covered and even turned the snow green. The bright light to the left of the display is the planet Venus.”   Credit: Richard Jenkinson         Jim Bray   Pixieland star party, Goldendale, Washington, US, 28 May 2017   Equipment: Canon EOS Rebel T3 DSLR camera, 50mm lens.   Jim says: “This was my second night at the star party after waiting out the day's heat, clouds and wind. We were waiting out the last of the sunset and twilight and some were wondering why the sky to the north had so much light pollution. One imager looked at a picture taken with his DSLR and noticed that the light was green and had contrast and vertical spikes in it, and called out that this was an aurora!”   Credit: Jim Bray         Andrew Walker   Durness, UK, 6 March 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera, Sigma 15-30mm lens, tripod   Andrew says: “I knew the aurora was forecast to be strong on this evening but forecasts rarely come to fruition. However on this occasion it did, big time. In fact the corona was directly over my house!”   Credit: Andrew Walker         Gill Williams   Ylläs, Finland, 19 January 2018   Gill says: “I took these way up in the Arctic Circle, where I was treated to the display of a lifetime, despite having received no real alerts.”   Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, Samyang 14mm lens.   Credit: Gill Williams         Jerry Porsbjer   Moskosel, Sweden, 4 October 2016   Equipment: Nikon D3s, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm lens.   Jerry says: “I was sitting in my editing studio working on pics from an evenings’ imaging. Around 5am I finished and went out for an early morning walk. I had been out only a few minutes and I was surprised to see the Northern Lights in the sky. I turned back home, grabbed my camera and went down to the lake behind our house to capture the spectacle.”   Credit: Jerry Porsbjer         Olli Reijonen   Asikkala, Finland, 18 August 2015   Equipment: Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7.   Olli says: “I was at our summer cottage at Lake Päijänne and I wanted to photograph the last noctilucent clouds of the season at midnight. There was some light action in the northern horizon so I took the camera and, to my surprise, also managed to capture aurora and Perseids.”   Credit: Olli Reijonen         Mike Morely, Abisko, Sweden, 19 January 2015    Mike says: “We were lucky enough to get married in northern Sweden and went back for our tenth anniversary in January 2015. We took an open chair lift up 900m to view the aurora from an open mountaintop and only had one night to chance seeing anything. It felt like we were right inside the aurora. I spotted these two tourists and thought they would make a good scale against the lights so I moved and repositioned my tripod.”   Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, 24-70   Credit: Mike Morely         Mariusz Szymaszek   Garðskagi lighthouse, Iceland, 2 February 2016   Equipment: Sony A7S camera, Samyang 14mmlens   Mariusz says: “I took this photo on a trip to lovely Iceland to see the Northern Lights for the first time. The night I took this photo was the last one on my trip, and I wanted to catch the magic of that place with green aurora at the background. I also wanted to keep the light beams as narrow as possible to make it more interesting.“   Credit: Mariusz Szymaszek       Gordon Mackie   Achavanich, Caithness, UK, 14 March 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 760D DSLR camera, Sigma 10-20mm lens.   I had planned taking these photos for some time, working out that the light from the first quarter Moon around this time of year would provide just the right angle and level of lighting to gently illuminate the foreground stones. As a bonus the aurora made an appearance just as I arrived to set up to do some photography, so my timing could hardly have worked out better.”   Credit: Gordon Mackie       Alison Bossaert   Kielder, UK, 6 March 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR camera, Sigma 12-24mm lens.   Alison says: “We were at the Kielder star camp and someone noticed the aurora so we rushed up to Elf Kirk Viewpoint with our cameras. I got lucky with this shot as a shooting star or Iridium flare found its way into this one.”   Credit: Alison Bossaert    
Our pick of the best images of the cosmos released this year
  Each month in BBC Sky at Night Magazine we select some of our favourite images captured by the world's best telescopes for our Eye On The Sky image gallery. Here we present a month-by-month selection of the most amazing astrophotos we spotted in 2017.     A new vista of Orion     ESO VISTA telescope, 4 January 2017   The Orion A molecular cloud is a massive star-forming region about 1,350 lightyears away, making it the closest stellar factory to our planet. This image is the most detailed near-infrared image of the region ever taken. It shows the entirety of Orion A, which stretches for about 8° south of the ‘sword’ of the Orion constellation.   The region is an incredibly active region with ongoing star formation being triggered by the death of previous generations of stars. This happens when older stars end their lives in an explosion, causing nearby molecular clouds to collapse and bringing about the formation of new stars to replace them.   VISTA’s infrared capabilities mean it can see beyond the dust that would otherwise obscure optical observations, revealing young, hidden stars to astronomers on Earth.   Credit: ESO/VISION survey     The Cat and the Crustacean      ESO VLT Survey Telescope, 1 February 2017   Just like clouds in the sky over Earth, the cosmic clouds we call nebulae form such intricate, unique shapes that observers cannot help but spot familiar objects in them. The nebula in the top right of this image is NGC 6334, known as the Cat’s Paw Nebula as it forms a trio of clouds that look rather like a feline footprint. Bottom left is NGC 6357, known as the Lobster Nebula with its dusty tendrils reaching out to the edge of the image.   That these two nebulae appear so close together, as though the ‘cat’ were waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting prey, is actually an illusion. In reality the Cat’s Paw is about 5,500 lightyears away from Earth, while the Lobster is 8,000 lightyears away.   Credit: ESO     Stellar spiral     Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, 6 March 2017   From a tiny seashell found on the beach to our own Milky Way, spirals are a common feature in nature. This one is caused by two stars orbiting each other in binary system LL Pegasi. One older star is ejecting gas and dust as it approaches the end of its life, and the spiral shape is carved out as the stars twirl around each other in orbit.   Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/H. Kim et al.     Solar flares     NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, 11 April 2017   An active region produced several medium sized solar flares over a ten-hour period on 3 April 2017. These were the strongest flares of the year so far. Some coronal mass ejections were also associated with some of these flares, ejecting plasma into space.   NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was able to capture images of the flares in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light.   Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory     Close encounters of the galactic kind     Chandra X-ray Observatory, 2 May 2017   The Perseus Galaxy Cluster resides in the Perseus constellation about 240 million lightyears away, and is so huge it would take light about 11 million years to cross it.   At roughly the 7 o’clock position in this image is a curved wave blowing across the cluster, spanning about 200,000 lightyears; roughly twice the size of the Milky Way.   The wave was probably formed billions of years ago as a result of a close encounter between the galaxy cluster and a smaller counterpart.   Credit: NASA/CXC/GSFC/S.A.Walker, et al.     SOHO’s solstice     Solar & Heliospheric Observatory, 21 June 2017   While we on Earth’s northern hemisphere experienced the summer solstice as the longest day of the year, the SOHO space observatory was busy observing the Sun at different ultraviolet wavelengths to produce this image.   From left to right, the brightest parts of the Sun in each image are 60,000–80,000ºC, 1 million, 1.5 million and 2 million respectively.   Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)     Phobos Photobomb     Hubble Space Telescope, 20 July 2017   Astronomers were capturing images of Mars when they happened to spot the moon Phobos appearing from behind the Red Planet. 13 separate images taken over 22 minutes reveal the moon’s motion as it orbits Mars, which it does so once every 7 hours and 39 minutes.   Phobos is edging closer to Mars with each orbit, and it is predicted that in 30-50 million years it may eventually smash into the planet.   Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)  Acknowledgment: J. Bell (ASU) and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)     Starburst     Chandra X-ray Observatory, 10 August 2017   Chandra observations of IC 10,a starburst galaxy, revealed about 110 X-ray sources. Starburst galaxies are galaxies that are producing stars at a fantastic rate; faster than the stellar ingredients can be replenished.   Observations revealed over a dozen black holes and neutron stars feeding off gas from younger, massive stellar companions. These ‘X-ray binaries’ emit large amounts of X-ray light. As a massive star orbits a compact companion such as a black hole or neutron star, material can be pulled away to form a disk of material around the compact object. Frictional forces then heat up this material, producing a bright X-ray source.    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass Lowell/S.Laycock et al. Optical: Bill Snyder Astrophotography     Saturn’s shadows     Cassini spacecraft, 13 September 2017   The Cassini mission ended 14 September 2017, as the spacecraft purposely crashed into Saturn's atmosphere. This is one of the last images captured by Cassini, just before its final plunge.   Bright bands of clouds on Saturn disappear into the shadows in this image, which has also managed to capture the hexagonal storm at the planet's north pole. We can clearly see Saturn's rings emerging just beyond the limb on the left edge of the picture.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute     Satellites of a gas giant     Juno spacecraft, 6 October 2017   NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently orbiting Jupiter, sending back data that is helping scientists unlock the secrets of the Gas Giant.   In this image, Jupiter’s limb can be seen top right, while its moons Io (right) and Europa (left) appear dwarfed in comparison. This image was processed by citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko using raw data captured by Juno.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko     Colliding clusters     Karl G Jansky Very Large Array / NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, 7 November 2017   Galaxy clusters are some of the most massive objects in the Universe, so naturally create quite a scene when they collide. Abell 2744 is the collective name for one such collision, located 4 billion lightyears away. This collision produced an enormous amount of energy, seen as bright radio emission in red and orange, and purple X-rays caused by extreme heating.   Credit: Pearce et al.; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra, Subaru; ESO.     We are made of star stuff     Chandra X-ray Observatory, 12 December 2017   Many of the elements that make up our bodies and the world around us come from the scorching furnaces of stars. Astronomers study supernova remnants - the remains of exploded stars - to learn more about how stars produce and distribute these elements throughout the Universe.   Cassiopeia A is one of the most studied. Chandra observations revealed the iron in Cas A has the mass of about 70,000 Earths, and detected the ejection of oxygen equivalent to about three times the mass of the Sun.   Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO  
Our pick of the best images sent in by you over the past year
  Each month at BBC Sky at Night Magazine we receive incredible astrophotos from astronomers and photographers across the globe, and select the best for our monthly Hotshots gallery.   Here we present the 12 winning images from 2017, in all their glory.   Thanks to everyone who sent in their images this year. From incredible captures of deep-sky objects, to impromptu nightscapes captured on a smartphone, it's been another fantastic year of astrophotography.   If you would like to submit your most recent and favourite astrophotos for the chance to appear in the mag, you can do so via our online gallery.         January       Moon montage   Sarah and Simon Fisher, Worcestershire, 30 October 2016   Sarah says: “My husband Simon and I were delighted to have consecutive clear nights to image our nearest natural neighbour. The seeing was outstanding, and with UK skies being so changeable (and cloudy) we were ecstatic to be able to have our telescope out four nights on the trot.”   Equipment: Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera, 5-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain.       February       The Triangulum Galaxy   Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, 28 November 2016   Simon says: “I chose M33 as a target because I have always had challenges in the past when attempting to image it. It’s not as bright as some of the other galaxies but there’s a lot of detail in there; you just have to get a decent number of exposures.”   Equipment: Atik 383L+ CCD camera, Sky-Watcher Quattro-8CF imaging Newtonian, Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro SynScan mount       March       NGC 2264   Chris Heapy, Macclesfield, 29 December 2016   Chris says: “I had imaged this area back in 2014 using a smaller camera, but using the same 5-inch refractor with my new G4-16000 enabled me to capture the surrounding structures at similar resolution, revealing NGC 2259 in the bottom-left corner.”   Equipment: Moravian G4-16000 CCD camera, Televue NP127is apo refractor, 10 Micron GM 2000 HPS II mount.       April       The Rose Galaxy   Mark Large, Colchester, 31 January 2017   Mark says: “I came across an image of this galaxy in a calendar I was given at Christmas and knew straight away I had to get it! Having imaged for some time with a modified DSLR, the first thing you notice is how much more time is required with a CCD. It is well worth it though to get the amount of data required to produce an image like this.”   Equipment: Altair Astro 10-inch Ritchey Chrétien astrograph, QSI 683WSG-C-8 mono CCD camera, Sky-Watcher AZ EQ6-GT mount.       May       The Seagull Nebula   Mariusz Szymaszek, Crawley, West Sussex, 26 February 2017   Mariusz says: “Last winter wasn’t very kind to astrophotographers in southern areas of the UK. With fewer opportunities because of the conditions during those cold winter nights, planning was key. I recently modified my camera and wanted to see if it could register more nebulosity from objects like this. If feel it turned out very well with just one hour of exposure.”   Equipment: Modified Sony α7S camera, Evostar 80ED Pro refractor, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan mount, Optolong L-PRO MAX Luminosity Filter.       June       Betelgeuse Setting   Amanda Cross, Lancashire, 4 April 2017   Amanda says: “The finished piece is made of single images taken 25 seconds apart, slightly out of focus with a high ISO and a low shutter speed to pick out colour variations. Our atmosphere refracts the star’s light just like a prism splits sunlight. When a star is close to the horizon we are looking at it through a thicker part of the atmosphere, which creates more of the scintillation and flashes of colour that we can see.”   Equipment: Canon EOS 7D Mk II DSLR camera, 300mm lens.       July       Centaurus A   Haim Huli, Namibia, 12 May 2017   Haim says: “At the end of April I travelled for the first time to the southern hemisphere to an astro farm in Namibia. For the first three days after I arrived the sky was full of clouds. At the fourth night I ‘wowed’ when I finally saw the southern dark sky for the first time. My number one planned target was NGC5128, AKA the Centaurus A Galaxy.”   Equipment: FLI MicroLine ML8300 mono CCD camera, ASA 12-inch astrograph, ASA DDM85 mount.       August       Saturn   Avani Soares, Canoas, Brazil, 3 June 2017   Avani says: “Photographing Saturn and the main planets of the Solar System is one of my favorite hobbies. Although there is much to be said for observing Jupiter due to the dynamics of its atmosphere, Saturn is the planet that causes greater visual impact, both in direct observation and in a beautiful astrophoto.”   Equipment: ZWO ASI224MC CMOS camera, Celestron EdgeHD 14 Schmidt-Cassegrain.       September       AR2665   David Searles, Kent, 9 July 2017   David says: “With the Sun getting towards the solar minimum, this shot chose itself rather than being chosen! Working at a focal length of about 5m, achieving good focus is always a big challenge as the daytime seeing can be quite variable.”   Equipment: ZWO ASI120MM-S mono CMOS camera, Celestron CPC 925 XLT Schmidt Cassegrain, 2x Barlow lens, Baader solar film.       October       The Triffid and Lagoon Nebulae   Gábor Szendrői, Kendig, Hungary, 16 July 2017   Gábor says: “Since these nebulae never rise very high in the sky in Hungary, it was necessary to find a dark observation site, preferably one at high altitude to capture the vivid colours and the delicate structure of the nebulae embedded into a rich star field. My father and I decided to return to Kendig, our favourite observation site, 726 metres above sea level.”   Equipment: Modified Canon EOS 700D DSLR camera, GPU 100/635 apochromatic refractor, Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6 Go-To mount.       November       The Milky Way   Ian Carruthers, County Waterford, Ireland, 23 August 2017   Ian says: “As the best part of the Milky Way season here in Ireland was nearing its end, myself and four photographers took a chance on a not so promising forecast. Three hours drive from Dublin with rain and cloud all the way down. Then we arrived in Waterford and the clouds cleared and the stars began to shine. We were ecstatic!”   Equipment: Nikon D610 DSLR camera, iOptron Skytracker, Samyang 24mm lens.       December       Harvest Moon   Kevin Jackson, Southport, 5 October 2017   Kevin says: “I love taking pictures of the Moon so the full Harvest Moon was extremely appealing. I'm a back garden amateur astrophotographer and find lunar photography a great and easy way of learning basic astrophotography skills.”   Equipment: Altair Hypercam IMX178C, Altair Astro Starwave 102 ED doublet refractor (2017 version), Astro Physics CCDT67 Telecompressor, EQ3-2 mount, Moon filter.      
Our pick of some of the best galactic images sent in by readers
  Every month we receive an array of incredible astro images taken by readers from across the globe, showing what it is possible to achieve today with amateur astronomical and photographic equipment.   Here, we present some of the best galactic images we have received over the past few years. It is incredible to think how relatively little we know about our own Milky Way, then to consider that each of the galaxies below is another system full of suns and planets: perhaps many like Earth.   There could be two trillion galaxies in the Universe, and while all are currently out of physical reach, that doesn't stop astrophotographers from creating incredible images for the rest of us to marvel at.   Whether you're an astrophotographer or simply like snapping pics of the Moon with your smartphone, be sure to share your astro images with us via our online Hotshots gallery.       Andromeda Galaxy     Charles Thody   Pembrokeshire, 8 September 2015   Equipment: Modified Canon EOS 40D DSLR camera, Sky-Watcher Equinox-80 ED apo refractor, Sky-Watcher NEQ6 PRO SynScan mount.       Sculptor Galaxy     Ron Brecher and Brett Soames   New South Wales, Australia, October 2015/February 2016   Equipment used: SBIG STXL-6303E CCD camera, custom-built 6-inch refractor, Paramount ME mount, PixInsight.       Whirlpool Galaxy     David Attie   Abu Dhabi, UAE, 9 April 2016    Equipment: Moravian G2-4000 CCD camera, Celestron C11-A XLT Schmidt-Cassegrain, Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6 GT mount.       NGC 1097     Warren Keller   Star Shadows Remote Observatory South, Chile, July 2016    Equipment: Apogee Alta U9 CCD camera, RCOS 16-inch Ritchey-Chrétien, PlaneWave Ascension 200HR mount.       Andromeda Galaxy     Chris Heapy   Macclesfield, 6 October 2016   Equipment: Moravian Instruments G4-16000 CCD camera, Tele Vue NP127is refractor.       Triangulum Galaxy     Gary Opitz   Rochester NY, US, 6 October 2016   Equipment: ZWO ASI 1600MC cooled camera, Telescope Engineering Company APO140 ED refractor, Orion Atlas mount.       Pinwheel Galaxy     Mark Griffith   Wiltshire, 20 January 2017   Equipment: Atik 383L+ CCD camera, Teleskop Service 12-inch Ritchey-Chrétien telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro equatorial mount.       Leo Triplet     Miroslav Horvat   Petrova Gora, Croatia, 21 April 2017   Equipment: QHY8 Pro CCD camera, Sky-Watcher Explorer-200P reflector, Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro SynScan mount.       M81 & M82     Álvaro Ibáñez Pérez   Toledo, Spain, 25 May 2015   Equipment: Atik 460EX mono CCD camera, TS115 triplet apo refractor, NEQ Pro II tuning belts and EQMOD.       Andromeda Galaxy     Mariusz Szymaszek   Crawley, 23 July 2015   Equipment: Pentax K-5 DSLR camera, Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED DS-Pro refractor, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro GoTo mount.       Sculptor Galaxy     Tom Bishton   Brisbane, Australia, 3 September 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 600D modded DSLR camera, Sky-Watcher ED120 Pro apo refractor, Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6 Go-To mount.    
We present the winners of the world's premier astrophoto competition
  We present the winners of this year's Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 competition.     Judges for the 2017 competition included, for the first time, Rebecca Roth of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, along with photographer Ed Robinson, ESO’s Oana Sandu, The Sky at Night’s Pete Lawrence and Chris Lintott, Royal Observatory Greenwich Public Astronomer Marek Kukula, comedian Jon Culshaw and BBC Sky at Night Magazine editor Chris Bramley.   The winning images are available to view in a free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich on 16 September.       Overall winner (Category: Stars & nebulae)   The Rho Ophiuchi Clouds, by Artem Mironov (Russia)   Hakos Farm, Windhoek, Namibia, 6 August 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera, Sky-Watcher 200P reflector, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan mount.       Aurorae     Ghost World, by Mikkel Beiter (Denmark)   Stokksnes, Iceland, 5 October 2016   Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark III DLSR camera, 24mm lens.         Galaxies     M63: Star Streams and the Sunflower Galaxy, by Oleg Bryzgalov (Ukraine)   Rozhen Observatory, Smolyan Province, Bulgaria, 6 April 2016   Equipment: QSI 583wsg CCD camera, 10-inch homemade reflector, White Swan 180 mount.       Our Moon     Blue Tycho, by László Francsics (Hungary)   Budapest, Hungary, 12 December 2016   Equipment: ZWO ASI290MM camera, Sony Alpha SLT-A99 DSLR camera,10-inch reflector, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Go-To mount.       Our Sun     Mercury Rising, by Alexandra Hart (UK)   Preston, Lancashire, UK, 9 May 2016   Equipment: Point Grey Grasshopper3 CCD camera, TEC 140 refractor, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Go-To mount.       People & Space     Wanderer in Patagonia, by Yuri Zvezdny (Russia)   El Chaltén, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, 27 September 2016   Equipment: Sony A7S camera, iOptron Sky-Tracker mount, 18mm lens.       Planets, Comets & Asteroids     Venus Phase Evolution, by Roger Hutchinson (UK)   London, UK, 25 March 2017   Equipment: ZWO ASI174MM camera, Celestron C11 EdgeHD  Schmidt-Cassegrain, Celestron CGE Pro mount.         Skyscapes     Passage to the Milky Way   Haitong Yu (China)    Xinglong, Hebei Province, China, 9 April 2016   Equipment: Sony a7s ILCE-7s camera, 85mm lens.       Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year     Saturn   Olivia Williamson (UK – aged 13)   Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 27 May 2016   Equipment: ZWO ASI224MC CMOS camera, Celestron C11 EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain, Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6 Go-To mount.       Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer     The Cone Nebula (NGC 2264)   Jason Green (Gibraltar)   Frenegal de la Sierra, Badajoz, Spain, 10 January 2017   Equipment: QSI 660wsg-8 mono CCD camera, William Optics FLT 132 triplet apo refractor, Celestron CGE Pro mount.       Robotic Scope     Encounter of Comet and Planetary Nebula   Gerald Rhemann (Austria)   Tivoli Farm, Khomas, Namibia, 5 June 2016   Equipment: FLI Microline ML 16200 CCD camera, ASA 12-inch Astrograph Newtonian reflector.     
Our pick of the best eclipse images sent in by you
The US eclipse of 21 August 2017 was one of the astronomical highlights of the decade, with eclipse chasers from across the globe making the journey to the path of totality.   Here are some of our favourite pics of the eclipse sent in by readers over the past week, including some taken from the UK!   Dave Walker Nashville, Tennessee Equipment: Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera, Skywatcher Star Adventurer, Canon 100-400 IS lens.   Bill Smith Jackson Hole, Wyoming Equipment: Nikon D40 DLSR camera, 70-300mm lens.   James West Menan Buttes, Idaho Equipment: Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera, 100-400mm Mk2 lens   Stewart Wilson Jackson, Wyoming Equipment: Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera, iOptron Skytracker Pro, 100-400mm lens.   David Trudgian Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Equipment: Nikon Coolpix P900 camera, tripod.   John Chumack Hopkinsville, Kentucky Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, Explore Scientific 4-inch apo refractor.   Allan Trow Porthcawl, UK Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, 5-inch refractor, Herschel Wedge.   John Parratt Santee, South Carolina Equipment: Canon EOS 700D DSLR camera, 300mm lens.   Jeff Johnson Las Cruces, New Mexico Equipment: Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera, Canon 55-250mm lens   Mark Stuart Thornbury, UK Equipment: Lenova mobile phone, 5-inch reflector   Edite Brites Idaho Falls, Idaho Equipment: Canon EOS 750 DSLR camera, 250mm lens, solar filter    
Nick Spall reports back from one of the astronomical events of the decade
  The US eclipse of 21 August 2017 is one that many won't forget for a long time. Science writer and eclipse chaser Nick Spall made the journey to view and image this incredible celestial sight.       There can be few celestial events viewable on the planet to rival a total eclipse of the Sun.   When such an extraordinary occurrence affects a country as populated and accessible as the United States of America - crossing the entire continent from the Pacific in the west to the North Atlantic in the east - then that special occasion is worth travelling for.   The 21 August 'Great American Eclipse' didn’t fail to amaze both residents and visitors alike, arriving as it did on the coast of Oregon and departing from South Carolina.   The last time this cross-continent event took place was in 1918.   Good weather is obviously key when selecting the observing point from which you will glimpse an eclipse. The good news for the US in the summer is that over two-thirds of the country is likely to be clear.   Selecting eastern Oregon at a point on the 70 mile-wide, west-east totality track that led inland, well away from the cloudier Pacific coastline almost 5,000 ft. high in the northern Cascade Mountains proved to be a good choice.   Despite a slight smoke haze from seasonal forest fires, when the eclipse period started at 9.08 hours Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) all was set for a thrilling experience. No real difficulties were experienced from visitors pulling off the highways to choose their ideal spots, with limited queues and many wide spaces to select.   Many UK enthusiasts who travelled to Cornwall for the eclipse of 1999 will remember a more crowded road system!   For this observer’s third total eclipse (after the UK and Turkey), the experience shared with excited mainly US citizens proved very special, with great enthusiasm and a determination to catch this once in a lifetime event. As supplies of filters ran out, some watchers were even using full welders' masks to view the Sun (note: this is not recommended! Alway use certified safety glasses when viewing an eclipse).     Welders' masks at the ready, totality begins Credit: Nick Spall   The cooling of the air and the eerie decreasing of the daylight up to totality seemed more potent at high altitude in the mountains.   Fellow observers watched as the Moon tracked across the Sun, covering four medium sized sunspots. It is extraordinary to realise that the totality shadow is travelling across the USA at over 2,000 mph.   Traffic on the highway ceased, birds went silent, a hushed silence descended and then the sky suddenly plunged into near darkness.   It seems impossible, but stars and the planet Venus had suddenly appeared in the sky - at 10.20 am in the morning! The glorious 'diamond-ring' effect occured before full totality, then red coloured Baily’s beads strung the obscured disk of the Sun.   The glorious corona provided a beautiful backdrop to the now black disc hanging somewhat bizarrely in the sky. All too soon - after only 2 minutes for this location on the totality track - the stunning diamond ring returned followed by sunlight slowly increasing and warming the air again.       All eclipse images: Nick Spall   What an event – one not to be missed.   For those who couldn't be there this time, don’t despair! – on 8 April 2024, the next US coast to coast eclipse totality line will run from Texas to Maine: a must for future eclipse devotees' diaries!    
Our top pick of images taken by the Voyager mission
Forty years ago, the twin Voyager spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. What they achieved since has been extraordinary. Between them they have visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and have explored the outer reaches of the Solar System, the edge of the Sun’s domain and beyond. As you read this, Voyager 2 is edging closer to interstellar space. Voyager 1 is already there, sending back data from a realm we have never explored before. The spacecraft returned thousands of images from the planets over the years. They showed us the intracies of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and the complexity of Saturn’s rings. Voyager 2 is still the only spacecraft to have visited Uranus and Neptune, giving us our first (and still, best) glimpses of these icy worlds. Here are some of the best of them. Written by Nadia Blackshaw   Learn more about the majestic tale of the Voyager spacecraft with The Story of Voyager. Discover the myriad marvels and revelations of a mission that was only officially built to last five years and has been flying for two-thirds of the Space Age. Order your copy at    
Royal Observatory Greenwich release some of the best images this year
  A selection of astrophotos shortlisted for the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 competition has been released by the Royal Observatory Greenwich.     Now in its ninth year, the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition continues to grow, this year receiving over 3,800 entries from photographers from 91 countries across the world.   The judges for the 2017 competition include, for the first time, Rebecca Roth of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, along with photographer Ed Robinson, ESO’s Oana Sandu, The Sky at Night’s Pete Lawrence and Chris Lintott, Royal Observatory Greenwich Public Astronomer Marek Kukula, comedian Jon Culshaw and BBC Sky at Night Magazine editor Chris Bramley.   The winning images will be announced on 14 September 2017, followed by a free exhibition of the top entries held at the Royal Observatory Greenwich on 16 September.   Below is a small sample of the amazing astrophotos that made judging this year's competition harder than ever before.     A Battle We Are Losing Haitong Yu (China) Location: Beijing, China, 2 March 2017 Equipment: Sony A7s camera, 55mm f/1.8 lens The Milky Way rises above a small radio telescope from a large array at Miyun Station, National Astronomical Observatory of China, in the suburbs of Beijing. The image depicts the ever-growing light pollution we now experience, which together with electromagnetic noise has turned many optical and radio observatories near cities both blind and deaf – a battle that inspired the photographer’s title of the shot. The image used a light pollution filter (iOptron L-Pro) and multiple frame stacking to get the most of the Milky Way out of the city light.      A Brief Rotation of Mount Olympus Avani Soares   Location: Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, 1 June 2016 Equipment: ZWO ASI224MC camera, Celestron C14 EdgeHD reflector, Celestron CGE Pro mount. A series photos of Mars taken between 1 June and 3 July 2016 showing Mount Olympus in three different positions. Mount Olympus also known as Olympus Mons is the tallest volcano in the Solar System. The features on the surface of Mars as seen from Earth change rapidly, as seen in the contrast between the central photo, made during the opposition (when Mars is at its closest to the Earth), and the photo on the left, taken 33 days later.    An Icy Moonscape Kris Williams (UK) Location: Capel Curig, Snowdonia National Park, Conwy, UK, 3 December 2016 Equipment: Sony ILCE-7S camera, 18mm f/2.8 lens. A lone stargazer sits atop the peak of Castell-Y-Gwynt (Castle of the Winds) on Glyder Fach Mountain in Snowdonia, North Wales, beneath a starry night sky during freezing temperatures in mid-winter.   Aurora over Svea Agurtxane Concellon (Spain) Location: Svea, Svalbard, Norway, 25 February 2017 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 15mm f/2.8 lens. The purples and greens of the Northern Lights radiate over the coal mining city of Svea, in the archipelago of Svalbard. The earthy landscape below the glittering sky is illuminated by the strong lights of industry at the pier of Svea.   Auroral Crown Yulia Zhulikova (Russia) Location: Murmansk, Russia, 3 January 2017 Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, 14 mm f/2.8 lens. During an astrophotography tour of the Murmansk region with Stas Korotkiy, an amateur astronomer and popularizer of astronomy in Russia, the turquoise of the Aurora Borealis swirls above the snow covered trees. Illuminated by street lamps, the trees glow a vivid pink forming a contrasting frame for Nature’s greatest lightshow.     Beautiful Trømso Derek Burdeny (USA) Location: Tromsø, Norway, 7 March 2016 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 14mm f/2.8 lens. The aurora activity forecast was low for this evening, so the photographer remained in Tromsø rather than driving to the fjord. The unwitting photographer captured Nature’s answer to a stunning firework display as the Northern Lights dance above a rainbow cast in the waters of the harbour in Trømso made for a spectacular display, but did not realize what he had shot until six months later when reviewing his images.   Crescent Moon over the Needles Ainsley Bennett (UK) Location: Alum Bay, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, UK, 3 October 2016 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 200mm f/5.6 lens. The 7 per cent waxing crescent Moon setting in the evening sky over the Needles Lighthouse at the western tip of the Isle of Wight. Despite the Moon being a thin crescent, the rest of its shape is defined by sunlight reflecting back from the Earth’s surface.   Eastern Prominence Paul Andrew (UK) Location: Dover, Kent, UK, 29 August 2016 Equipment: PGR FL3-U3-13S2M-CS camera, Lunt LS152THa solar telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount. A large, searing hedgerow prominence extends from the surface of the Sun on 29 August 2016. There are a number of different prominence types that have been observed emanating from the Sun, and the hedgerow prominence is so called due the grouping of small prominences resembling rough and wild shrubbery.     Fall Milk Brandon Yoshizawa (USA) Location: Eastern Sierras, California, USA, 21 October 2016 Equipment: Nikon D750 DSLR camera, 50mm f/1.8 lens. The snow-clad mountain in the Eastern Sierras towers over the rusty aspen grove aligned perfectly in front of it, whilst our galaxy the Milky Way glistens above.    Ghostly Sun Michael Wilkinson (UK) Location: Groningen, Netherlands, 4 April 2017 Equipment: ZWO ASI178MM camera, APM 80/480 triplet refractor, Vixen Great Polaris mount. The Sun photographed in Calcium-K light, depicting the star’s inner chromosphere. In the colour-rendering scheme used, the surface is shown as negative, with the sunspots as bright spots, but the area outside the limb is shown with increased contrast, highlighting a surge on the western limb, and several small prominences.   Hustle and Peaceful Prisca Law (Hong Kong) Location: The Peak, Hong Kong, 3 March 2016 Equipment: Canon EOS 5D MK IV DSLRcamera, 15mm f/5 lens. Taken from The Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, the image shows the hustle and bustle of the city in contrast to the peaceful starry sky. The haze above the beautiful landscape reminds us that light pollution prevents us from enjoying an even more stunning sky view.   Ignite the Lights Nicolas Alexander Otto (Germany) Location: Fredvang, Nordland, Norway, 26 September 2016 Equipment: Nikon D800 DSLR camera, 14mm f/2.8 lens. After a long hike from his small cabin to Kvalvika, Lofoten Islands in Norway, the photographer arrived at the slopes above the beach around midnight. During the hike the auroral display was relatively weak, but when he made it to the beach the sky ignited in a colourful spectacle of greens and purples framed by the mossy, green landscape.   ISS Daylight Transit Dani Caxete (Spain) Location: Madrid, Spain, 2 April 2017 Equipment: Nikon D610 DSLR camera, Long Perng 80 ED apo refractor, Sky-Watcher Allview mount. The International Space Station (ISS) whizzes across the dusky face of the Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon, whilst photographed in broad daylight. Shining with a magnitude of -3.5, the ISS was illuminated by the Sun at a height of 9º on the horizon.   Moon Rise Reflections Joshua Wood (New Zealand) Location: Wellington, New Zealand, 11 February 2017 Equipment: Sony α7II camera, 138mm f/10 lens. An unexpected shot of the Moon rising over the glistening ocean off the Wairarapa coast, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Sun. As the photographer was capturing the sunset over Castlepoint, he looked over his shoulder to see the Moon rising behind, reflecting off the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and it became the new subject of his image.    Mr Big Dipper Nicholas Roemmelt (Denmark) Location: Engadin, Graubünden, Switzerland, 29 December 2016 Equipment: Canon EOS 1DX Mark II DSLR camera, 14mm. A stargazer observes the constellation of the Big Dipper perfectly aligned with the window of the entrance to a large glacier cave in Engadin, Switzerland. This is a panorama of two pictures, and each is a stack of another two pictures: one for the stars and another one for the foreground, but with no composing or time blending.    Near Earth Object 164121 (2003 YTI) Derek Robson (UK) Location: Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK, 2 November 2016 Equipment: Canon EOS 1100D DSLR camera, 300mm lens. On 31 October 2016, Near Earth Asteroid 164121 (2003 YT1) made a close encounter with Earth at 3 million miles. This Apollo asteroid with an orbital period of 427 days was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey on 18 December 2003. The photographer’s first attempt at imaging the asteroid was done with a camera on a fixed tripod, controlled by Astrophotography Tool software.   NGC 2023 Warren Keller (USA) Location: Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, near La Serena, Chile, 2 January 2016 Equipment: FLI Proline PL16803 mono CCD camera, RCOS 16-inch reflector telescope, PlaneWave Ascension 200HR mount. Most often photographed next to the famous Horsehead Nebula, the photographer has instead given NGC 2023 the spotlight in order to try and bring out all of the wonderful detail seen across its diameter of four lightyears. Partner Steve Mazlin is the lead processor on this one for SSRO.   NGC 7331 – The Deer Lick Group Bernard Miller (USA) Location: Animas, New Mexico, USA, 30 October 2016 Equipment: Apogee Aspen CG16M mono CCD camera, PlaneWave CDK-17 17-inch reflector, Paramount ME mount. NGC 7331 is an unbarred spiral galaxy found some 40 million light years away from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus. Of the group of galaxies known as the Deer Lick Group, NGC 7331 is the largest, and can be seen dominating the image whilst the smaller galaxies NGC 7335, NGC 7336, NGC 7337, NGC 7338 and NGC 7340 drift above it.    Orion’s Gaseous Nebula Sebastien Grech (UK) Location: London, UK, 15 February 2017 Equipment: Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera, Sky-Watcher Explorer 150P reflector, Sky-Watcher EQ3 Pro mount. Lying 1,300 light years away from Earth, the Orion Nebula is found in Orion’s Sword in the famous constellation named after the blade’s owner. The Orion Nebula is one of the most photographed and studied objects in the night sky due to the intense activity within the stellar nursery that sees thousands of new stars being created, which also makes it a relatively easy target for beginners.   Reflection Beate Behnke (Germany) Location: Skagsanden, Lofoten, Norway, 28 October 2016 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 14mm f/2.8 lens. The reflection in the wave ripples of Skagsanden beach mirrors the brilliant green whirls of the Aurora Borealis in the night sky overhead. To obtain the effect of the shiny surface, the photographer had to stand in the wave zone of the incoming flood, and only when the water receded very low did the opportunity to capture the beautiful scene occur.   Scintillating Sirius Steve Brown (UK) Location: Stokesley, North Yorkshire, UK, 11 January 2016 Equipment: Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera, 250mm lens, Star Adventurer tracking mount. The seemingly pop art inspired canvas of the rainbow of colours exhibited by the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. These colours are obvious to the naked eye and more so through the eyepiece of a telescope, but are difficult to capture in an image. To do this the photographer had to somehow ‘freeze’ each colour as it happened by taking a series of videos at different levels of focus and then extracted the frames from each video to make up this composite image. By capturing the star out of focus, the light from Sirius was spread out over a larger area, which resulted in the colours it displayed being more obvious.   Sh2-249 Jellyfish Nebula Chris Heapy (UK) Location: Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK, 29 November 2016 Equipment: Moravian Instruments G4-16000 Mono CCD camera, GM2000HPS-II mount. Lying in the constellation of Gemini, IC443 is a galactic supernova remnant, a star that could have exploded as many as 30,000 years ago. Its globular appearance has earned the celestial structure the moniker of the Jellyfish Nebula.   Shooting Star and Jupiter Rob Bowes (UK) Location: Portland, Dorset, UK, 25 March 2017 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 20mm f/5.6 lens. A shooting star flashes across the sky over the craggy landscape of Portland, Dorset, as our neighbouring planet Venus looks on. The image is of two stacked exposures: one for the sky and one for the rocks.    Solar Trails above the Telescope Maciej Zapior (Poland) Location: Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague Equipment: Home-made Solargraph pinhole camera, 6-month exposure Taken with a solargraphy pinhole camera, the image charts the movement of the Sun over the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague with an exposure of half a year (21 December 2015–21 June 2016). As a photosensitive material, regular black-and-white photographic paper without developing was used, and after exposure the negative was scanned and post-processed using a graphic program (colour and contrast enhancement). Star Track in Kawakarpo Zhong Wu (China) Location: DeQin, Yunnan Province, China, 16 January 2017 Equipment: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, 35mm f/5.6 lens. The stars beam down on to the Meili Snow Mountains, also known as the Prince Snow Mountains - the highest peaks in the Yunnan Province, China. It is world-renowned for its beauty and is one of the most sacred mountains in Tibetan Buddhism. The moonlight striking the top of the mountains appears to give them an ethereal quality.   Starburst Galaxy M82 Bernard Miller (USA) Location: Animas, New Mexico, USA, 22 February 2017 Equipment: Apogee Aspen CG16M mono CCD camera, PlaneWave CDK-17 17-inch reflector telescope, Paramount ME mount. The starburst galaxy M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy, gleams five times brighter than our galaxy lies some 12 million light years away from Earth in the constellation of Ursa Major. In a show of radiant oranges and reds, the superwind bursts out from the galaxy, believed to be the closest place to our planet in which the conditions are similar to that of the early Universe, where a plethora of stars are forming.   Super Moon Giorgia Hofer (Italy) Location: Laggio di Cadore, Province of Belluno, Italy, 15 November 2016 Equipment: Nikon D750 DSLR camera, 400mm f/8 lens. The magnificent sight of the Super Moon illuminating the night sky as it sets behind the Marmarole, in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy. On the night of 14 November 2016, the Moon was at perigee at 356.511 km away from the centre of Earth, the closest occurrence since 1948. It will not be closer again until 2034. On this night, the Moon was 30% brighter and 14% bigger than other full moons.    The Blue Hour Tommy Eliassen (Norway) Location: Saltfjellet, Nordland, Norway, 30 March 2017 Equipment: Nikon D810A DSLR camera, Nikon AF-S Nikkor lens. The setting crescent Moon and Mars gaze over Saltfjellet, Norway as the Northern Lights appear to emanate from the snowy landsape. The Aurora Borealis were an unexpected guest in the shot as the Sun was only about ten degrees under the horizon meaning the early display came as a surprise.   The Lost Hour Andrew Whyte (UK)  Location: Titchfield, Hampshire, UK, 26th March 2017 Equipment: Sony α7s camera, 17mm f/4 lens. The radiant, concentric star trails seemingly spinning over a lone stargazer against the glowing purples and pinks of the night sky during the hour when the clocks ‘spring forward’ to begin British Summer Time. With time so intrinsically linked to celestial activity, a one-hour star trail seemed the perfect metaphor.    The Road Back Home Ruslan Merzlyakov (Latvia) Location: Near Umeå, Sweden, 8 August 2016 Equipment: Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera, 14mm f/2.8 lens. Noctilucent clouds stretch across the Swedish sky illuminating a motorcyclist’s ride home in this dramatic display.    Winter Ice Giant Uranus Martin Lewis (UK) Location: St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, 29 December 2016 Equipment: ZWO ASI224MC camera, homemade 17-inch reflector, home-made equatorial mount. The distant ice giant Uranus, the seventh farthest planet from the Sun, some 2.6 billion kilometres (at its closest) away from our own planet is entered into the competition for the first time. Found in the constellation of Pisces, here it can be seen surrounded by its five brightest moons: Ariel, Miranda, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.  
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