Ten Great Astrophotos of 2008

There are plenty of "Best of 2008" lists out there, but ours exclusively features your work!

Starry Sky

Many of the best astrophotos taken during 2008 were recorded in your backyards.
Credit: Dennis di Cicco

It's easy to become jaded to the impact of all those "best photos of 2008" lists coming out. Sure, it's pretty cool to see the geysers on Enceladus, or landslides in progress on the polar plateaus of Mars, but I've come to expect greatness out of the spacecrafts we have currently exploring the solar system around us. The same goes for the constant stream of pictures produced by the Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer space telescopes, as well as a host of other professional observatories, both high in Earth’s orbit or seated upon lofty mountaintops under the best skies in the world.

Often unsung are the great strides that amateur astronomers make each year as they diligently photograph the heavens above. Far less attention is brought to the lonely practitioner of amateur astrophotography, who may spend weeks recording photons from distant galaxies, or scout for days to find the perfect foreground to compose an upcoming conjunction portrait. While a number of today’s astro-imagers operate their observatories from afar via the wonders of modern technology, producing a picture that rises above the rest requires talent above all, and that cannot be bought.

So while there have been thousands of excellent images submitted to our Gallery throughout 2008, I’ve chosen 10 that evoke a sense of wonder and mystery that I feel is the true calling of an amateur astronomer. I hope you agree.

The most picturesque conjunction of the year occurred on the evenings of December 1–2 , with the Moon joining Venus and Jupiter to form the “Smiley Conjunction.”

Photo by Mike Salway Canon 350D, Sigma 17-70mm lens, taken at Green Point, Central Coast, NSW Australia.

August 1st treated eclipse chasers and much of central Asia to a wonderful total solar eclipse, allowing pioneering eclipse photographer Miloslav Drukmüller and friends to collaborate on what is possibly the deepest, most revealing eclipse photograph recorded from Earth.

Total Solar Eclipse

Photo by Miloslav Druckmüller, Peter Aniol, and Vojtech Rušin Canon EOS 5D and 350D, 70-200 mm lens and 500 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain lens.

On July 9th, Jupiter was closest to Earth for the year. This opposition favored observers located south of the equator, and planetary observer Mike Salway was ready to capture the event, while the giant sported three red spots — the two new ones were both discovered amateur astronomers.

Jupiter

Photo by Mike Salway. 12-inch Newtonian reflector with an Imaging Source DMK 21AU04.AS video camera.

During early March, comet 17P/Holmes which went into a surprising outburst late in the previous year made a close pass by the famous California Nebula NGC 1499. The Comet had by this time swelled to many times the diameter of the Moon as seen from Earth.

Comet Holmes

Photo by Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn. Canon EOS 40D digital SLR camera with 100-mm lens, Celestron UHC/LPR filter, f/2.8, ISO 800.

Early this year, Saturn presented us with the last view of its glorious ring system as seen from below the planet’s equator. Today and throughout 2009, the rings will be seen nearly edge on.

Saturn

Photo by Damian Peach. Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, Lumenera SkyNyx 2.0 video camera.

2008 began as Mars had just passed opposition, still presenting Earth-based observers with a wealth of detail in most any telescope. Although not as close as the opposition of 2003, amateur planetary photography techniques have advanced so much since that time that better images were produced during this apparition than any previous.

Mars

Photo by Damian Peach. Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, Lumenera SkyNyx 2.0 video camera.

Beyond our solar system, amateurs continue to reveal the splendors of the Milky Way, such as this remarkable portrait of the famous Cone Nebula, NGC 2264, in Monoceros.

Cone Nebula

Photo by R. Jay GaBany. 20-inch RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien telescope, SBIG STL-11000M CCD camera.

Using special filters that pass only narrow regions of the visible spectrum, astrophotos such as this one of NGC 281 in Cassiopeia are shown to be composed of various elements fluorescing by the powerful output of nearby massive stars.

NGC 281

Photo by Ken Crawford. 20-inch RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien telescope, Apogee Alta U9000 CCD camera.

Possibly the most famous amateur astrophotographer, Rob Gendler is so well renown for his processing skills that professional observatories give him their data to produce stunning renditions of distant galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. Below is one such image of NGC 1232 that showcases his deft talents.

NGC 1232

Photo by Rob Gendler. Data provided by Jan-Erik Ovaldsen, Allan Hornstrup, IDA using the ESO/Danish 1.5-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile.

Visible only from south of the equator, the Large Magellanic Cloud hosts one of the largest starbirth regions visible without optical aid. The Tarantula Nebula (also known as 30 Doradus) allows the true extent of nebulosity to be revealed when imaged through narrowband filters.

30 Doradus

Photo by John Gleason. Tahakashi 106-mm astrograph, FLI ProLine PL16803 CCD camera.