Photographer Tom Lowe—who also took top honors in the "Earth and Space" category for this August 8 shot—says he was inspired not only by the tree's gnarled beauty but also by its age: Bristecone pines can live up to 5,000 years.
"Being a timelapse photographer, it's natural for me to attempt to picture our world from the point of view of these ancient trees. Seasons and weather would barely register as events over a lifetime of several thousand years," Lowe said in a press statement.
But the trees are mere babies compared with the light from the stars pictured, "some of which began its journey toward us almost 30,000 years ago," added judge Marek Kukula, an astronomer with theRoyal Observatory, Greenwich, in the U.K.
Run by the observatory, this year's Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition was open to submissions taken up to two years before the contest's closing date. Judges selected winners in six categories from more than 500 entries.
Photograph courtesy Tom Lowe
Young Astronomy Winner: "A Perfect Circle"
An annular eclipse over India on January 15, 2010, offered the perfect opportunity for Dhruv Arvind Paranjpye, 14, to try out a new telescope and digital camera. Paranjpye's result became the winning shot in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year category for photographers under 16.
Sometimes called a ring of fire, an annular eclipse happens when the moon is too far from Earth to completely block the sun's disk. In this shot, the dark clouds acted as a filter, allowing the photographer to create the unusual frame. (See more annular eclipse pictures.)
Contest judge Rebekah Higgitt of the Royal Observatory commented: "I loved how the perfect geometry of the eclipsed sun contrasts with the chaotic shapes of the clouds."
Photograph courtesy Dhruv Arvind Paranjpye
Deep Space Winner: "Orion Deep Wide Field"
A familiar sight even in light-polluted skies, the three bright stars of Orion's belt cascade across the left side of this June 2010 picture by Rogelio Bernal Andreo.
The frame also reveals what can't be seen with the naked eye: a "landscape" of dark dust and pink hydrogen gas, including the Orion and Horsehead nebulae. The long-exposure shot earned top honors in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year category for pictures of objects beyond our solar system.
"This alien skyscape really captivates my imagination, and I could look at it for hours on end!" contest judge and astrophotographer Pete Lawrence said in a press statement.
Photograph courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo
Our Solar System Winner: "Siberian Totality"
The moon blots out the sun during a total solar eclipse on August 1, 2008, as seen from the roof of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk, Russia. Solar eclipses offer a rare opportunity for observers on the ground to see magnetic activity in the sun's faint upper atmosphere, called the corona.
"On eclipse day, the clouds were present everywhere, and only one hour before first contact (partial phase) did the skies clear ... and they cleared beautifully and with pristine transparency," photographer Anthony Ayiomamitis said in a press statement. (See more pictures of the August 1 solar eclipse.)
Photograph courtesy Anthony Ayiomamitis
People and Space Winner: "Photon Worshipers"
Plenty of Californians could be accused of being sun worshipers—but this group at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California, might take the cake. The gathering celebrates the few days each year when the sun is in the right position to shine through a natural arch in a hard-to-reach rock formation nicknamed the Solar Keyhole.
Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest managers introduced this new category in 2010 "for photos that include people in a creative and original way." The winning picture—shot by Steve Christenson on December 23, 2009—calls to mind the ancient tradition of finding significance in astronomical alignments, according to the judges.
An April 2010 shot of the colorful spiral of the Whirlpool galaxy and its companion, NGC 5195, earned photographer Ken Mackintosh the title of "best newcomer" for 2010 in the Royal Observatory's astrophotography contest. The category was open to "people who have taken up the hobby in the last year and have not entered the competition before."
"I have been interested in astronomy since I was very young and took it as an option at university," Mackintosh said in a press statement.
"My interest was very much rekindled recently when I realized ... how much more accessible the photography side of the hobby had become and what good results could be achieved at not such a great cost or effort."