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Mind-blowing Andromeda galaxy and ‘Cosmic Inferno’ earn space photo contest’s top prizes – Live Science

The unusual perspective in this photo of the Andromeda galaxy nabbed accolades for French astrophotographer Nicolas Lefaudeux.

The unusual perspective in this photo of the Andromeda galaxy nabbed accolades for French astrophotographer Nicolas Lefaudeux.

(Image: © Copyright Nicolas Lefaudeux)

The Andromeda galaxy lies 2 million light-years from Earth, but it looks close enough to touch in an image that took home the top prize in the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 competition.

French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux used a technique called tilt-shift — positioning a camera’s lens in a way that manipulates the depth of field in an image — to bring our closest neighboring galaxy closer still. His photo blurs the foreground and background while leaving the center sharply in focus, making the galaxy appear startlingly close, almost as though the observer could reach into the photo and grab it.  

Contest judges selected Lefaudeux’s photo, titled “Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length?”, from thousands of submissions, naming it the winner in the “Galaxies” category, as well as the competition’s overall best photo. Lefaudeux captured the image in Forges-les-Bains, Île-de-France, using a 3D-printed custom camera attachment to achieve the tilt-shift visual effect; “the blur created by the defocus at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of closeness to Andromeda,” Royal Museums Greenwich representatives said in a statement.

Related: In images: Rising ‘phoenix’ aurora and starburst galaxies light up the skies

The cleverness of Lefaudeux’s technique made the photo “truly magical,” judge and photographer Ed Robinson said in the statement. Lefaudeux’s illusion of closeness in the galaxy seemed especially poignant right now, as many people around the world are practicing social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson said.

Another standout photo, “Cosmic Inferno” captured by photographer Peter Ward of Australia, was the winner in the “Stars and Nebulae” category. In his image of NGC 3576, a bright nebula in the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way galaxy, Ward used software to strip the surrounding stars from the view, leaving only the flaming tendrils of the nebula. Ward then mapped the nebula to a fiery false-color palette — a choice intended to raise awareness of recent wildfires in his home country Down Under, he said in a statement. 

NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies. It is shown here without any stars and mapped into a false-color palette.

NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies. It is shown here without any stars and mapped into a false-color palette. (Image credit: Copyright Peter Ward)

Cooler palettes dominated in other prizewinning photos, such as the glowing aurora greens and blues in “The Green Lady,” captured in Norway by photographer Nicholas Roemmelt; and the shimmering pinks and pale yellows in “Painting the Sky,” photographed in Finnish Lapland by Thomas Kast. The winning photos for 2020 were announced yesterday (Sept. 10) in an awards ceremony that Royal Museums Greenwich livestreamed on YouTube and on Facebook, and can be viewed on the contest website.

German photographer Nicholas Roemmelt spied the figure of a

German photographer Nicholas Roemmelt spied the figure of a “lady in green” sketched in the northern lights in skies over Norway. (Image credit: Copyright Nicholas Roemmelt)

Based in the U.K. and open to photographers of all levels, the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s international contest celebrates outstanding space photography. Judges award prizes for spectacular images of celestial objects such as the moon, the sun, auroras and galaxies, and for photos that juxtapose people (or that show the influence of humans) alongside the night sky. Other categories elevate photographers who are younger than 15; images that combine elements of art and science; and entries that demonstrate innovative image processing of open source data, according to the contest website.

“From vast aurora to fiery nebulae to an intimate look at our closest galactic neighbor, there really is something for everyone,” contest judge Steve Marsh, an art editor for BBC Sky at Night Magazine, said in a statement.

Prizewinning photos from last year’s contest are currently on display at the National Maritime Museum in the U.K., where they will remain until Sept. 13, and the 2020 contest winners will be on public view from Oct. 23 until Aug. 8, 2021, according to the Royal Museums Greenwich website

Originally published on Live Science.

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Andromeda galaxy's

Andromeda galaxy’s ‘halo’ is nudging the Milky Way – CNN

(CNN)The Andromeda galaxy, our Milky Way galaxy’s largest and nearest neighbor, is surrounded by a massive halo that is actually bumping up against our own galaxy’s halo, according to new research using the Hubble Space Telescope.

A halo is the large envelope of gas that surrounds a galaxy. Scientists used Hubble to comprehensively study and map Andromeda’s halo and were surprised to discover its unique structure, as well as its massive size.
The halo extends out 1.3 million light-years from the galaxy, almost halfway to our galaxy, and as much as 2 million light-years in other directions.
These galaxies are actually on a collision course that will cause them to merge 4 billion years from now. This merger will form one giant elliptical galaxy. And given the extension of Andromeda’s halo in our direction, it’s already nudging the Milky Way’s galactic halo.
“Understanding the huge halos of gas surrounding galaxies is immensely important,” said Samantha Berek, co-investigator of the new study published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal and undergraduate student at Yale University, in a statement.
“This reservoir of gas contains fuel for future star formation within the galaxy, as well as outflows from events such as supernovae. It’s full of clues regarding the past and future evolution of the galaxy, and we’re finally able to study it in great detail in our closest galactic neighbor.”
Andromeda’s halo also has two nested layers of gas that form distinct shells.
“We find the inner shell that extends to about a half million light-years is far more complex and dynamic” than the outer shell, said Nicolas Lehner, lead study author and research professor of astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame, in a statement.
“The outer shell is smoother and hotter. This difference is a likely result from the impact of supernova activity in the galaxy’s disk more directly affecting the inner halo.”
The research team found a large amount of heavy elements in Andromeda’s halo that were likely released from the interiors of stars when the stars exploded, called supernova explosions.
Given how similar the two galaxies are, understanding Andromeda’s halo could shed light on the Milky Way’s halo as well — which is harder to study because we live inside the Milky Way.

Understanding our galactic neighbor

Andromeda, which likely contains as many as 1 trillion stars, is similar in size to our large galaxy, and it’s only 2.5 million light-years away. That may sound incredibly distant but on an astronomical scale, that makes Andromeda so close that it’s visible in our autumn sky. You can see it as a fuzzy cigar-shaped bit of light high in the sky during the fall.
And if we could see its massive halo, which is invisible to the naked eye, it would be three times the width of the Big Dipper constellation, dwarfing anything else in our sky.
While the gaseous halo may be invisible to our eyes, it’s clear to Hubble’s ultraviolet light capabilities.
Hubble orbits Earth from 340 miles away, and it’s been operating for 30 years. Ground-based telescopes can’t observe ultraviolet light because it’s absorbed by our atmosphere.
A previous study of Andromeda’s halo, conducted in 2015, was only able to use the light from six quasars, or distant active galactic cores that use black holes as their engines. While scientists have been able to study the halos of much more distant galaxies, they appear so small that the researchers can only use about one quasar.

How did they do it?

For the study, researchers used the Project AMIGA program, or Absorption Map of Ionized Gas in Andromeda, collected by Hubble. This included an analysis of light from 43 quasars that were scattered behind Andromeda’s halo.
The scattered light from these quasars allowed the researchers to analyze multiple parts of the halo and determine how it absorbed the light of the quasars. The scientists were able to detect how parts of the halo absorbed light differently.
This light absorption was the best way to study the halo and its composition because it doesn’t emit easily detectable radiation. However, Hubble was used to study the ultraviolet light emitted by the quasars, allowing the research team to detect signatures of carbon, silicon and oxygen in the gas.
“This is truly a unique experiment because only with Andromeda do we have information on its halo along not only one or two sightlines, but over 40,” Lehner said. “This is groundbreaking for capturing the complexity of a galaxy halo beyond our own Milky Way.”

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