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Stunning shot of giant plasma arc scoops Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023

Amarachi Orie, CNN

(CNN) — A photograph of a huge plasma arc next to the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, has won the 2023 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for a team of amateur astronomers.

The giant arc captured by the team led by Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty, in the image titled “Andromeda, Unexpected,” was a “surprising discovery” and could be the largest structure of its kind near to us in the universe, London’s Royal Observatory Greenwich, which hosts the competition, said in a statement Tuesday.

Typically, an image of a new discovery is mostly a blurry black and white image with an incomprehensible and almost invisible faint dot or spectrum, according to judge and astrophotographer László Francsics.

However, this “astrophoto is as spectacular as (it is) valuable. It not only presents Andromeda in a new way, but also raises the quality of astrophotography to a higher level,” he said in the statement.

Scientists are now investigating the large object, which is in the immediate vicinity of the Andromeda Galaxy, in a transnational collaboration, according to the observatory.

Another discovery was made by a team of amateur astronomers led by Marcel Drechsler and Xavier Strottner, whose image of an ultra-deep stellar remnant in a previously unknown galactic nebula—a giant cloud of dust and gas where stars form—topped the Stars & Nebula category.

‘Strikingly beautiful’

An image of the Running Chicken Nebula—so called because it looks like a giant chicken running across the sky, according to NASA’s website—won the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year award for two 14-year-old boys from China, Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang.

The nebula is located in the Centaurus constellation, about 6,000 lights year away from Earth, according to the release.

Judge and professional astronomer Yuri Beletsky described the image as “strikingly beautiful,” adding: “The photographers have managed to capture the vibrant colours of the nebula as well as the embedded star cluster.”

“This cluster contains several hot, young stars whose intense radiation causes the surrounding nebula to glow,” he continued.

Other winners included Monika Deviat in the Aurorae category for her abstract image of an aurora in the shape of a brushstroke; Ethan Chappel in the Our Moon category for capturing the moon passing in front of Mars; Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau in the Our Sun category for snapping the sun with a huge solar filament in the shape of a question mark; and Angel An in the Skyscapes category for capturing the extremely rare phenomenon of Sprites, in which atmospheric luminescence appears like fireworks.

The innovation prize was awarded to John White for uniquely capturing the sound of the black hole at the center of the Perseus Galaxy using audio source material from NASA’s Chandra Sonification Project—which he played through a speaker with a petri dish attached to it.

Katherine Gazzard, Curator of Art (post-1800) at Royal Museums Greenwich, said in the release that this was her first time judging the competition and that “the winning images are absolutely stunning. It has made me look at the night sky in a new light.”

The winning images will be on display in an exhibition opening at London’s National Maritime Museum on Saturday.

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