The Sciences

Up Close With Comet ISON

Showcasing the winners of our Comet ISON Photo Contest. 

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Photo Credits: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty

In fall of 2013 Comet ISON put on an amazing show for astronomers and photographers around the world — and though the comet broke up earlier than hoped, it didn't disappoint. 

To celebrate the celestial visitor, the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, Discover magazine, and Astronomy magazine hosted the Comet ISON Photo Contest. Judges considered images in three categories; in addition, website visitors also voted on a "People's Choice" winner. Now, after evaluating submissions from around the world, we've found our winners.

These seven exemplary photographs of the one-in-a-lifetime astronomical event highlight both the skill of the photographer and the beauty of Comet ISON.

Photo Credits: Chungbuk University

This photograph, taken Nov. 23, 2013 at Chungbuk University in South Korea, features Comet ISON (right) and the planet Mercury.

The photo is further enhanced by the vibrant colors of the rising sun. 

Photo Credits: John Chumack

It was the first clear morning of November when John Chumack set up his shoot atop the roof of an Ohio observatory. As dawn approached, Chumak had just a 30-minute window to photograph the comet.

Fortunately, he captured this 18-minute exposure, which tracks the comet's nucleus. 

Additionally, Chumak caught a rare gossamer tail and disconnection event created by solar wind impacting the comet. 

Photo Credits: Barry Burgess

Barry Burgess took a chance and drove more than an hour one morning to Port Medway in Nova Scotia to photograph Comet ISON. He hoped the clouds would clear, and they sure did.

Burgess chose this location because it featured a breathtaking landscape as a backdrop in the direction of the comet.

Photo Credits: Atish Aman

Here Comet ISON is seen in the sky over Pokhara City in Nepal.

The photo was taken on Nov. 16, 2013 shortly after the moon set. The light from the setting moon is seen reflecting off the peaks of the Anapurna Range in the Himalayas. 

Photo Credits: Eric Cardoso

This was Eric Cardoso's first attempt at photographing a comet. After reading the news and following Comet ISON for about a year, he was inspired to venture out in the dark in November 2013 in Alentejo, Portugal, to try and capture the comet. 

"I remember very well Comet Hale-Bopp, so this was a dream come true," Cardoso wrote in his entry.

Although ISON wasn't as magnificent as Hale-Bopp, Cardoso said it was well worth the effort. For a first attempt at photographing a comet, we'd say this picture turned out well. 

Photo Credits: Gerald Rhemannin

This photograph was taken remotely using equipment installed by Gerald Rhemannin in 2010 at Farm Tivoli Astrofarm in Namibia.

Rehmannin, who's photographed comets since 1989, snapped this photograph of ISON on Nov. 21, 2013. 

Photo Credits: Damian Peach

Comet ISON is captured here on Nov. 15, 2013, following a dramatic outburst in activity the day before.

This photo is actually a composite of two overlaid images to sharpen the intricate tail of the comet and star field, which is a time-consuming process. 

The photo makes it easy to see why ancients described some comets as "broom stars." 

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