NEARLY 60 people entered the astrophotography competition, submitting their best photos of the South Downs at night.

Photographers from across Hampshire and Sussex took part in the competition which celebrates the South Downs National Park’s status as an International Dark Sky Reserve, recognizing the region as one of the best places globally to stargaze.

“Cowdray Cosmos”, by Richard Murray from Waterlooville, took the top spot, capturing a Tudor home on a starry night.

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The image shows the Milky Way rising over Cowdray Ruins, in Midhurst, West Sussex, which was once a grand Tudor mansion visited by Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth 1. In September 1793, a fire left the property in ruins.

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The contest was judged by “Dark Skies” Dan Oakley, a lead ranger for the National Park, Steve Broadbent, chair of Hampshire Astronomical Group, and Vanessa Rowlands, chair of the South Downs National Park Authority.

Speaking on the winning entry “Cowdray Cosmos”, Mr Oakley said: “It’s such a well-framed image and shows what the landscape would have been like a couple of centuries ago. It’s a great little chocolate box photo of the South Downs.”

Mr Broadbent added: “I like this image because it has a bit of everything – the heritage, the reflection, and a really beautiful dark night sky.”

The first-place photographer, Richard Murray, received £100. The Hampshire resident said: “We were blessed with crystal clear skies and I was lucky enough to be able to capture this shot of the Milky Way rising behind the Cowdray Ruins.

 “It demonstrates that you don’t have to travel too far from town to enjoy the spectacular dark skies the park has to offer. The National Park has such a wide variety of beautiful landscapes and buildings to photograph and is truly a special part of the UK, both by day and night.”

Runner-up in the main category, “South Downs Dark Skyscapes”, was a shot of the moon rising behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne. “Beachy Head Moonrise” as taken by Andrew Parker.

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Meanwhile, “Toad in the Road”, by Peter Brooks, won the “Nature at Night” category of the competition.

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Carl Gough, from Littlehampton, was awarded runner-up for his panorama image “Reach for the Sky” in the “Nature at Night” category.

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Other photographs commended by the judges included “Spring Night at St Hubert’s” by Alan Crossland, which shows the “Little Church in the Field” at Idsworth with the arch of the Milky Way, “Celestial Estuary” by Giles Smith, which captures the famous Seven Sisters; and “Hiorne Neowise” by Neale Thibaut, which depicts the Comet Neowise in the night sky above the Hiorne Tower at Arundel.

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The South Downs National Park’s Dark Skies Festival begins on Saturday, February 4, with the park set to share more images from the competition. For more go to