Christmas shot of Comet Leonard wins 2022 astrophotography prize

The winning image, taken by Gerald Rhemann, captures a breathtaking view of Comet Leonard’s dramatic disconnection event.
By | Published: September 22, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Gerald Rhemann

For 35 years, Gerald Rhemann has spent many nights examining the skies and photographing hundreds of comets. But on December 25, 2021, he was gifted a special cosmic present. 

While targeting the sleek, blue Comet Leonard, Rhemann captured a dramatic and fleeting phenomenon called a disconnection event, which occurs when a chunk of the comet’s tail gets pinched off and carried away by the solar wind. That stunning shot ultimately won him astrophotography’s highest honor.

Last week, the Royal Museums Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022 dubbed Rhemann’s image the winner of Planets, Comets and Asteroids category, as well as the overall winner. According to the museum, many photographs featured comets racing across space, however his shot “really blew the judges away.”

Rhemann says he did see the possibility of winning something for his photograph, but winning the overall prize was definitely a highlight. Although a seasoned astroimager, Rhemann still finds comets to be some of the most challenging astral objects to photograph.

“Imaging comets is one of the most complicated tasks in astrophotography. You have to be careful not to miss a night and be ready in time,” Rhemann told Astronomy via email. “Processing is difficult because the comet moves within the exposure time, and, as in this case, the comet tail structure changes very quickly. To get a sharp comet and pinpoint stars at once, your experienced processing skills are a must.”

The other 10 contest winners were also announced at the same time as Rhemann. The winning shots included images ranging from colorful nebulae to the juxtaposition of humans and space. Winners and shortlisted photos are on display in an exhibit at the National Maritime Museum in London until August 2023.

[Editor’s note: This article has been revised to reflect a change in the winner of the newcomer category.]

Listed below are the other category winners:

Skycapes winner

Stabbing into the Stars by Zihui Hu 

Image taken in Nyingchi, Tibet, China. Equipment used: Sony ILCE-7R3 camera, Tamron 150–500mm lens, 150mm f5.6, 75 x 30-second exposures.

Sun winner

A Year in the Sun by Soumyadeep Mukherjee 

Image taken in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Equipment used: Nikon D5600 camera, Sigma 150–600c lens, Thousand Oaks Filter (White-Light), 600 mm f/6.3, ISO 100, 365 individual exposures (1/80-second to 1/500-second).

Moon winner

Shadow Profile of Plato’s East Rim by Martin Lewis 

Image taken in St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK.Equipment used: Home-built 444 mm Dobsonian Newtonian reflector telescope, home-built Equatorial Tracking Platform mount, Astronomik 642nm IR filter lens, ZWO ASI174MM camera, 12.8 m f/29, multiple 29-millisecond exposures.

Galaxies winner

Majestic Sombrero Galaxy by Utkarsh Mishra, Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden
Image taken in Pie Town, New Mexico, USA. Equipment used: ATEO 16″ f/3.7 Dreamscope Astrograph Newtonian telescope, Paramount ME II mount, Baader LRGB filter, FLI Proline 16803 CCD camera, 1558 mm f/3.7, 56 x 300-second Lum. exposures (10 hours total exposure), 1×1 binning.

People and Space winner

The International Space Station Transiting Tranquility Base by Andrew McCarthy 

Image taken in Florence, Arizona, USA. Equipment used: Celestron C11 and Explore Scientific AR127 telescopes, iOptron CEM70 mount, UV/IR Cut filter, ZWO ASI174MM and Sony A7 II cameras, 2,800 mm f/10, 0.3-millisecond exposure.

Aurorae winner

In the Embrace of a Green Lady by Filip Hrebenda 

Image taken in Hvalnes, Iceland. Equipment used: Sony ILCE-7RM3A camera, 16 mm f/2.8, ISO 2500; Sky: 5-second exposure; Foreground: 20-second exposure.

Stars and Nebulae winner

The Eye of God by Weitang Liang 

Image taken in Río Hurtado, Coquimbo Region, Chile. Equipment used: ASA N20 f/3.8 Newtonian telescope, ASA DDM85 mount, FLI Proline 16803 camera, 500 mm f/3.8, 22.5 hours total exposure

The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer

The Heart of the Heart – Melotte 15 by Hannah Rochford

Image taken at Bruton, Somerset, UK. Equipment used: SkyWatcher Evostar 80ED telescope (with 0.85x reducer), Baader ultra narrowband filters, SkyWatcher EQ6R-pro mount, ZWO ASI2600MM Pro camera, 510 mm f/6.37, 333 x 300-second (H-alpha x 102, OIII x 129, SII x 102) exposures

The Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation

Solar Tree by Pauline Woolley 

Equipment used: Original images from the AIA 0131 Angstrom channel of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (1 January 2020 to 1 February 2022). Images inverted then converted to black and white and contrast increased. Warm filter applied to give tree-like feeling

Young competition winner

Andromeda Galaxy: The Neighbour by Yang Hanwen and Zhou Zezhen 

Equipment used: SkyWatcher 150/750P telescope, iOptron CEM70 mount, Antlia LRGB, HYO H-alpha filter, ZWO ASI294MM Pro camera, 750 mm f/5, 17 hours total exposure