Winners of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize Announced

5 September 2012

The winner of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize, designed to help inspire the next generation of researchers, has been announced today (5 September 2012) at a reception in the House of Commons. Katia Moskvitch from the BBC was announced as the winner and awarded a trip to Chile by a panel of judges representing the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), who ran the competition, together with the Royal Astronomical Society and the Association of British Science Writers. The aim of the prize was to increase media coverage of the field, as a means of promoting the wonders of astronomy — a subject regularly cited as a key reason for students opting to take up careers in science.  The judges chose Katia as the winner for her remarkable series on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, located at the Paranal Observatory, Chile. [1]

Katia’s prize was announced at a reception primarily held to celebrate the UK’s involvement in the Large Hadron Collider after the recent discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson. The UK plays a lead role in both particle physics and astronomy and is ranked number one in the world for astronomy*.

Katia said: “As a technology journalist at the BBC, I don't get to write about astronomy very often. That's why I really loved my time in Chile, reporting about the telescopes in ESO’s observatories, and learning a lot of new things about space and technology. After I had written my features, I received really good feedback from readers, and a colleague urged me to enter this competition. I was quite surprised, but very happy when I found out I won!"

A special prize for excellence also went to Robin McKie from The Observer newspaper for his work on British involvement in the search for gravitational waves. [2]

The judges highly commended Maggie McKee from Boston, Massachusetts, for an article in the New Scientist on European involvement in the study of the transit of Venus. [3]

The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said:
“Media coverage is an important way of conveying the wonder of science to the public and making complex research easier to understand. It’s great to see such high quality, engaging journalism being recognised today. I have no doubt it will have played some part in encouraging the next generation to take up astronomy, helping to maintain the UK’s leading position in this field.”

Katia Moskvitch will be ESO’s guest at the inauguration of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Chilean Atacama Desert in March 2013.

Robin McKie will take up his prize of a visit to the Very Large Telescope later this year and Maggie McKee’s prize is a trip to the UK from the US where she is based – visiting some of the UK’s leading science facilities, including STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.

Professor John Womersley, STFC Chief Executive said:
“The media are vital partners in spreading the inspirational message of astronomy — and of other science fields — and it’s in all our interests to work together with the media to encourage more, and higher quality, coverage. The quality of the journalism being acknowledged here today is exceptional — we need more like this, to help inspire the next generation of much needed future scientists.”

Lars Lindberg Christensen, Head of the education and Public Outreach Department at ESO said:
"We would like to congratulate all participants, and especially the winners, for their outstanding work in promoting European astronomy. We hope such recognition will stimulate more coverage of Europe's leading contributions to the field of astronomy and bring these results closer to the public."

Due to the success of the competition it will run again next year. Details will be announced on the STFC and ESO websites in due course.

Images of the reception will be made available on the home page of STFC’s website as soon as possible after the reception.

The prizes were given for the following pieces of work:

[1] The award-winning article by Katia Moskvitch is entitled “Red-hot Chile peepers: How to make a very large telescope” (, which was published online in the technology news section of the BBC website.

[2] The first runner-up prize was awarded to the article “Hunting ripples in the fabric of space” ( by Robin Mckie that was published in the Discover Physics section of the printed edition of The Observer.

[3] The second runner-up prize was granted to the article “Transit Fans” ( by Maggie Mckee, which was published in the printed version of the weekly magazine New Scientist, as well as on

The UK in astronomy and physics

*The UK plays a lead role in both particle physics and astronomy and is ranked number one in the world for astronomy, as measured by the number of citations of research papers across the G8 in scientific journals in 2010.

Interest in physics and astronomy continues to grow. Applications for physics courses at university in 2010/11 were up by more than 17% on the previous year and in astronomy, by 40%. STFCI Impact Report 2011.

More Information

European Southern Observatory
The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czechia, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 40-metre-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

The STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:

  • in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR).
    The STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.;
  • overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii.

It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The STFC also has an extensive public outreach and engagement programme.  It is using its world leading research to inspire and enthuse schools and the general public about the impact and benefits that science can have on society.

The STFC is one of seven publicly funded research councils.  It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Follow us on Twitter: @STFC_Matters
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Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS:, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Association of British Science Writers
Founded in 1947, the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) is the professional organisation for science writers in the UK. Its 800 members write everything from news stories to books and TV programmes. It runs the UK’s science journalism awards, holds the UK Conference of Science Journalists, and helps entrants to the profession to expand their skills. It is a leading member of the World Federation of Science Journalists and is involved in promoting science journalism in the developing world.

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Oana Sandu
Community Coordinator
The education and Public Outreach Department, ESO
Tel: +49 89 320 069 65

Lucy Stone
Press Office
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0)1235 445 627
Mob: +44 (0)7920 870125

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035

Martin Ince
Association of British Science Writers
Mob: +44 (0)771 939 0958

About the Announcement



Winners of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize
Winners of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize
Award ceremony at a reception in the House of Commons, UK
Award ceremony at a reception in the House of Commons, UK