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The 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy © Martin PughM51, The Whirlpool Galaxy. Photo: The Royal Observatory Photographer of the Year/Martin Pugh

Australian Martin Pugh nabbed the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012 award from The Royal Observatory in Greenwich for the second time. Pugh, who previously won the award in 2009, snatched it up this time for his shot of M51, better known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. The two-armed spiral cluster of stars sits 31 million light years away from earth and can be seen in the constellation "The Hunting Dogs."

“The photographer has made the most of exceptionally good atmospheric conditions to capture an astonishing range of detail in his image of this iconic galaxy; the beautiful spiral structure, dark lanes of dust, and the way the pink clouds of hydrogen really stand out," said Dr. Mare Kukula, the Royal Observatory Public Astronomer. "It’s a remarkable achievement by an amateur astronomer; one of the best images of M51 that I’ve seen.”

The Hubble website offers another photo of M51 and an explanation of the galaxy's anatomy: the yellow center is clusters of older stars, the bright blue dots are clusters of younger stars, the brown streaks are giant dust clouds, and the pink puffs are pockets of hydrogen gas. The yolk-colored circle above the Whirlpool Galaxy is the not-so-poetically named NGC 5195 galaxy. Despite its somewhat bland appearance, scientists believe that NGC 5195 is sending powerful waves of energy into its spiral neighbor that enhance the color and shape of those whirling arms.

The Royal Observatory is currently showing more photos at a free exhibition in Greenwich and on their website.

—Joe Spring

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