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Capturing the night sky: DIAS Reach for the Stars 2023 Results

‘M51 – A Galactic Dance’ and ‘Ghost Ship’ have been selected as the 2023 winning images in the ‘Reach for the Stars’ astrophotography competition, run by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Taking the first prize in the ‘Back on Earth’ category, was an image of the Milky Way over the Port Láirge Shipwreck near Bannow Bay, Saltmills, Co. Wexford. The image was taken by Adrian Hendroff, from Stepaside, Dublin. In addition to being the overall winner in the ‘Back on Earth’ category, Mr Hendroff also scooped the top prize in the Public Choice category receiving the most votes in the online public vote for his image ‘Illuminate’.

The two runners-up in the ‘Back on Earth’ category were: Patryk Sadowski, from Derry City, for his image ‘Manannán mac Lir & Aurora’ and Keith Levins, from Blackrock, Cork City, for his submission, ‘The Almighty Arch’.

Commenting on Adrian’s photo, Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of Astrophysics at DIAS and a member of the judging panel for ‘Reach for the Stars’, said: “The image of the shipwreck near Bannow Bay mesmerised the panel when we saw it. The Milky Way captured above the ship in all its glory is perfectly framed with the rusting ship, seaweed laced mudflats and the faint glow of the Northern Lights. It’s clear a huge amount of thought and creativity went into capturing this image.”

Sara Harvey, from Bishopstown, Co. Cork, claimed first prize in the ‘Out of this World’ category. This category called for images depicting scenes or elements of astronomical interest such as deep space images or images of the solar system. The winning image ‘M51 – A Galactic Dance’ captures the Whirlpool Galaxy, located 31 million light years from Earth. The galaxy has a face-on appearance as seen from Earth, showing its distinct spiral structure and galactic core.

Runners up in the ‘Out of this World’ category were: Enda Kelly, from Wicklow Town, for his image ‘When the planets align. Lunar occultation of Mars.’ and David Mackie, from Athenry, Co. Galway, for his image ‘The Spaghetti Nebula’.

Prof. Gallagher continued, “The level of detail captured in Ms. Harvey’s ‘M-51 – Galactic Dance’ is really impressive. It is well framed to include many points of interest including the hot, young stars and yellow, older stars within the winding, graceful arms of the Galaxy. You can also see some tiny galaxies floating in the background and its companion galaxy NGC 5195 is clearly visible. This is a technically brilliant image.”

Judges’ Feedback

The winners were selected by a judging panel following a meticulous judging process of over 70 entries. In addition to Prof. Peter Gallagher, the judging panel included Brenda Fitzsimons, Picture Editor, The Irish Times; Michael McCreary, President, Irish Astronomical Society; and Niamh Breathnach, Director, Alice Public Relations.

Commenting on the competition, Michael McCreary, President of the Irish Astronomical Society and member of the judging panel, said: “As a new member of the judging panel this year, I was honoured to be involved in the judging process. Astro-photography competitions are a great way to reconnect the general public to the night sky, capturing their imaginations with these stunning astro-photographs. Through the competition we can encourage as many people as possible to explore our world through the night sky.”    

Echoing Michael’s comments, Brenda Fitzsimons, Picture Editor, The Irish Times, said: “I am delighted to be involved again this year. Each year I am excited to see the entries that feature unexplored night scenes from the remote wilderness of our landscape and skies.”

Fellow judge Niamh Breathnach, Director of competition sponsors Alice Public Relations, remarked: “As ongoing sponsors of the competition, it’s been exciting to see how astro-photography has evolved over the last three years. There is a greater appreciation for our night skies with more and more people expressing their curiosity for what is happening above us. Each year we see new dark sky targets and areas of natural beauty. It makes our job very difficult choosing a winner from all of the amazing images.”

DIAS playing key role in space research

Commenting on the success of the competition, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS said: “I would like to extend my congratulations to the winners of the competition on their breathtaking entries. Viewing the online gallery of this year’s entries, it’s clear the passion for astro-photography has been elevated to a new level.

“Photos of our night sky are a powerful tool to engage the general public in science and astronomy. Interconnecting science, history, and heritage, some of the images show the still pristine night sky above cultural heritage sites across Ireland while others incorporate detailed depictions of galaxies and nebulae far away. At DIAS, the area of space research is ever expanding with initiatives such as the Astronomical Observatories of Ireland being launched in May. This historic partnership will see DIAS – Dunsink Observatory partnering with Armagh Observatory and Planetarium and Birr Castle Demesne to develop a shared approach to science, research and heritage across the three sites.  It’s important that we continue to protect the sanctity of our dark skies so that future generations are able to enjoy the abject beauty of the cosmos.

“I’d like to thank all of those who entered for sharing their passion and creativity with us. I hope that the night sky continues to be a source of inspiration, creativity and wisdom going forward.”

Outdoor Exhibition

The winning images, along with a selection of the judges’ top-rated images in the Reach for the Stars competition will be available to view as part of an outdoor exhibition, from Wednesday, 2nd August 2023. The exhibition will hang at the railings of DIAS’s premises at 10 Burlington Road, Dublin and is free to attend.

The winning images are all available to view now online on www.reachforthestars.ie.

DIAS’s ‘Reach for the Stars’ competition is being run in partnership with The Irish Times and is sponsored by Alice Public Relations. The Irish Astronomical Society are initiative supporters.