Astrophotography is both an art and a science and this is nowhere better illustrated than in this collection of astronomical images resulting from the 2016 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. The glossy, well-produced volume contains all 140 of the winning and short-listed images in 11 categories including ‘skyscapes’, ‘our Moon’, ‘stars and nebulae’, ‘people and space’ and ‘best newcomer’. Each section showcases the winner, runner-up and highly commended entries followed by the images that reached the respective shortlist.
The book succeeds on several levels. For anyone interested in astronomy, it’s an obvious hit because it illustrates their subject in an immediate and easily accessible way. And for those into photography, although it represents a fairly narrow and specialised field, it offers a significant technical challenge for those in search of a ‘different image’.
It also works as both an artistic and educational resource. One could open it as one would a coffee table book, with expectations of a quick flick-through, but I challenge anyone not to stop and go ‘wow’ occasionally; or say “what on Earth is that?”. Of course, the point is that many of the images are not ‘on Earth’ at all, effectively representing the limits of the human imagination as much as scientific research. And that is one of the beauties of astronomy: that it crosses the putative cultural divide between art and science.
What was the overall winner of the 2016 competition? A series of images from the start to the end of a solar eclipse stacked together to form an artistic composition with the dark circle of the Moon in the centre and concentric arcs on either side. The arcs show the phenomenon known as Baily’s Beads which occurs when light from the sun flickers out as the eclipse begins and appears at the opposite edge of the disk as the eclipse ends. You may not always agree with the judges’ decisions - but that just adds to the fun!