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: