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Starstruck! Breathtaking images of night sky in South Downs National Park

A shimmering purple heathland beneath the Milky Way, a seaside full of stars and the moon rising over a ‘haunted’ tower are among the winners of this year’s South Downs National Park astrophotography competition.

Almost 100 entries were submitted to this year’s competition, which celebrates the National Park’s status as one of only 21 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world and one of the most accessible places in the UK to go stargazing.

The contest was judged by ‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley, an expert on the dark skies of the National Park, Steve Broadbent, from Hampshire Astronomical Group, and Elinor Newman, an astrophysicist who works on the events team at the National Park.

Taking the top spot in the ‘South Downs Starry Skyscapes’ category was a spellbinding night-time image of Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters, in East Sussex. ‘Galactic Bay’ was captured by Giles Embleton-Smith, from Eastbourne.

Galactic Bay
©Galactic Bay by Giles-Embleton-Smith

Judge Steve Broadbent 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.”

Winning £100, Giles added: “The shooting conditions at the Cuckmere Haven were ideal, with the Milky Way lining up perfectly over the old wooden breakwaters. This is such a fantastic and prestigious competition, which always has a consistently high standard of entries. 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 and dating back more than 5,000 years. Carl Gough, from Littlehampton, photographed an immense starry night in the National Park last summer and wins £50.

It was a double victory for Carl, who came top in the “Nature at Night” category with his beautiful picture of heathland surrounding Burton and Chingford ponds, near Petworth, West Sussex.

Heather and Milky Way
© Heather and Milky Way by Carl Gough.

Judge Elinor 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.”

Carl, who picks up £100 as category winner, 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, which could also include images of humans connecting with the dark skies, was “A Sky Full of Stars”, by Lorcan Taylor-Hood, taken at Warren Hill dew pond on the Eastbourne downland. Lorcan, from Eastbourne, wins a prize of £50.

Taking the top spot in the ‘Magnificent Moon’ category was an eerie image of a harvest moon rising over Racton Ruins, near Chichester, West Sussex. A harvest moon refers to the nearest full moon to the autumnal equinox and its incredible light enables farmers to work late into the night, helping them to bring in the crops from the fields. Judges were bowled over by the composition of the photograph, which is a folly dating back to the 1760s and reputedly haunted by the ghostly figure of a woman. Nathan Hill, from Emsworth, Hampshire, picks up a £100 prize.

Harvest moon photo
©Harvest moon over Racton Ruins by Nathan Hill.

Judge Dan 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 canon ball being fired!”

Runner-up in the moon category was a stunning picture of the full moon behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne, and wins Giles Embleton-Smith £50.

Four images were highly commended by the judges, including “There was a bear on Litlington Road” by Steve Geliot, which shows part of the Great Bear constellation reflected in a flooded road. Steve was also commended for his image of “Orion over Black Pond” at RSPB Pulborough Brooks. “The Power Above”, depicting the Milky Way over the Hiorne Tower at Arundel, by Janette Britton, was highly commended, together with “Golden Moonrise”, by Giles Embleton-Smith, who captured a golden moon behind Belle Tout lighthouse and reflecting over the seas at Seven Sisters.

All the winning images will be shared and celebrated during the National Park’s Dark Skies Festival, which runs from 10 to 18 February. Click here to see the action-packed programme.

Following the festival, the shortlisted astrophotography will go into “The People’s Choice” with the chance for the public to vote for their favourite.


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