‘Spell-binding’ starry shots win South Downs astrophotography contest

A “spell-binding” image of the Milky Way has been announced as the winner of the annual South Downs National Park astrophotography competition.

The winning photo in the Starry Skyscapes category was a night-time image of Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, entitled Galactic Bay, which was captured by Giles Embleton-Smith, from Eastbourne.

One of the judges, Steve Broadbent, from Hampshire Astronomical Group, said: “This image evokes a wonderful atmosphere and shows just how spectacular the stars can be in the South Downs National Park on a clear night.”

Mr Embleton-Smith said: “The shooting conditions at the Cuckmere Haven were ideal, with the Milky Way lining up perfectly over the old wooden breakwaters. I’m absolutely delighted and honoured to win.”

Runner-up in the skyscapes category was a “stunning” image of Cissbury Ring – the largest hill fort in Sussex, dating back more than 5,000 years, which was taken by Carl Gough, from Littlehampton.

He also came top in the Nature At Night category, with his picture of heathland surrounding Burton and Chingford ponds, near Petworth in West Sussex.

Judge Elinor Newman, an astrophysicist who works on the events team at the national park, said: “Lowland heath is one of the rarest habitats in the world and this really does capture the magic of it at night.

“Our heaths are actually some of the darkest spots in the national park and this gives a realistic example of what you might see on a clear night. Those beautiful heathers support an array of wildlife, including sand lizards and nightjars.”

Mr Gough said: “The National Park offers so many opportunities for someone like me that has a passion for astronomy and nature.

“I’m able to view the Milky Way with my unaided eyes arching over heathland, reaching into land from out to sea, and towering over the world-famous chalky cliffs.

“With this particular photo it was the heather that drew me – nothing screams heathland like heather and nothing screams South Downs like heathland.”

Runner-up in the nature category was A Sky Full Of Stars, by Lorcan Taylor-Hood, taken at Warren Hill dew pond on the Eastbourne downland.

Taking the top spot in the Magnificent Moon category was a shot of a harvest moon rising over Racton Ruins, near Chichester, West Sussex, taken by Nathan Hill, from Emsworth, Hampshire.

Judge Dan Oakley, the national park’s resident dark skies expert, said: “This is an extraordinary image and so well-framed. It captures movement which is very difficult to do in astrophotography. It almost looks like a cannon ball being fired.”

Runner-up in the moon category was a picture of the full moon behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne, which was also taken by Mr Embleton-Smith.

Four images were highly commended by the judges, including There Was A Bear On Litlington Road, showing part of the Great Bear constellation reflected in a flooded road, and Orion Over Black Pond at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, both taken by Steve Geliot.

The Power Above, depicting the Milky Way over the Hiorne Tower at Arundel, by Janette Britton, was also highly commended, together with Golden Moonrise, another photo taken by Mr Embleton-Smith, which captured a golden moon behind Belle Tout lighthouse reflecting over the sea at Seven Sisters.

– The winning will be shared and displayed during the South Downs National Park’s Dark Skies Festival, which runs from February 10 to 18.


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