Two Northern California astrophotographers have been shortlisted for the prestigious Astronomy Photographer of the Year Award. The prize, organized by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in England and open to photographers from around the world, comes with an award of £10,000 (about $14,000). The shortlisted images, chosen from over 4,500 entries from 75 countries, will be displayed this month in London's National Maritime Museum. The winner will be announced on Sept. 16.
Sacramento astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy was shortlisted for a piece titled The Magnetic Field of our Active Sun. McCarthy told the Royal Observatory: "This image shows how the magnetic field pulls up portions of the chromosphere following a large solar flare, with the magnetic field lines on crystal clear display along the limb in Hydrogen-Alpha light." On Instagram, he described the image simply as, "Our star caught in a vulnerable moment."
McCarthy, who was born and raised in California's capital, recently left a career in software to pursue astrophotography full-time. He says his love of space initially began in childhood, inspired by his father's telescope. "Nowadays," he tells KQED, "my peers inspire me. They remind me there is always more to learn and there is an infinite amount of growth potential in [astrophotography]."
Also shortlisted for the prize is Mountain View resident Marcin Zając. It's the third year in a row that Zając has been selected, this time for his stunning Alien Throne photograph, seen below.
Zając took the ethereal shot in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico, during a mid-pandemic camping trip to "the most remote areas" he'd ever visited on American soil. Zając, who is originally from Warsaw, Poland, described his image to the Royal Observatory as "an otherworldly rock spire (also known as a hoodoo), ris[ing] out of the badlands, forming a perfect foreground to the Milky Way galaxy above."