Departure lounge ramblings on music, places, climate change and stuff outdoors

Gazing on the cosmic plughole

I wonder if Brandon Yoshizawa knew that the exhaust plume of a Falcon 9 rocket would take on the shape of a flower as its hot discharge made contact with colder air of the upper atmosphere? He was certainly in the right place at the right time and with the requisite skill to capture an extraordinary image. The result, Flower Power, is a perfect example of the blend of art and science that makes the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum so special.

Yoshizawa’s work could easily grace the cover of a science-fiction or fantasy novel, but generally the photographs I like best are the ones with people in them. Ben Bush takes his dogs out when he’s doing astro-photography, which is somewhat counter-intuitive for a discipline which requires hours of staying still in one place and waiting for the right moment. It is, however, the presence of one of his canine companions that helped Bush win in the ‘People and Space’ category, with his stunning Ben, Floyd and the Core capturing man and dog flanked by Mars and Saturn and silhouetted by the ancient light of the Milky Way. It is a spectacular shot and, in the photographer’s words, “encapsulates my love for the cosmos and my relationship with it and those around me”.

In the same ‘People and Space’ category I also loved James Stone’s Cosmic Plughole, which captures the star trails over Tasmania of an hour and a quarter of the Earth’s rotation. The photographer has managed to capture himself in the image, cutting a suitably intense profile as he endeavoured to set the shot up. Up north, you see, one only needs to be able to identify the Great Bear to be able to find the Pole Star, but it’s a bit trickier to find the celestial pole south of the equator.

Wang Zheny’s, Aurora Like Phoenix, really does resemble that mythical bird and made me even more desperate to be able to witness the northern lights. Apparently they do occasionally come to Wales, so maybe this Xmas..

“What is in a name? That which we call a rose would smell as sweet by any other name”, opined Romeo, but sometimes names do matter. Sean Goebel’s photograph caught my eye immediately because it looked like something out of Star Wars, but surely it should have been called Jedi Telescopes not In Mars Above the Keck Lasers. You’ll have to see it..

Away from humanity and into the Deep Space section, the sheer density of stars being born in Luis Romero Ventura’s The Elegant Elephant Trunkcan’t help but act as a reminder of how small and insignificant is our primitive species, that barely knows how to look after its own planet, let alone traverse the solar system, galaxy, or universe beyond. It does look beautiful out there, though.

Raul Villquerde Fraile’s Andromeda Galaxy suggests movement and the caption explains that our nearest neighbour galaxy, which can be easily seen through an amateur telescope, is indeed on the move, like everything else in the universe. In the Andromeda Galaxy’s case, however, it is heading towards us and a fiery collision with our own Milky Way, although not for another 5,860 billion years.

But back to the here and now and my favourite photograph of all, Jason Perry’s Catching Light. A black and white striped lighthouse stands tall and proud, its window glowing red, and its beacon having to compete with a glorious trail of the Milky Way lighting up the North Carolina sky better than anything of human manufacture. There is something about the composition, the beauty of both the terrestrial and celestial colours, and everything reaching upwards, that is just exhilarating. What a fantastic exhibition! Must go again in 2020.


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