An aurora borealis that lights up the night sky in Iceland. The Milky Way that illuminates in a remote area in Australia. Even nebulae that display dazzling colors. All these phenomena have delighted astronomy enthusiasts for years, and many people travel the globe to capture such events.
The Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition honors amateur astronomy photographers who capture stunning images of space. The organization released several dozens images out of the more than 4,200 entries it received ahead of its announcement this October of this year's winners. The competition began in 2009 and is organized by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in the United Kingdom.
The photographers featured here are a mixture of amateurs and professionals, but their images are universally stunning.
The photo above entitled "Rigel and the Witch Head Nebula" was taken by Mario Cogo in Namibia. "The dark Namibian sky was the perfect location to capture the wonder of the Witch Head Nebula and Rigel," said Cogo in his submission. "The Witch Head Nebula is a very faint molecular gas cloud which is illuminated by supergiant star Rigel, the seventh brightest star of the sky and the brightest star in the constellation of Orion."
The caption listed below each photo was written by the photographer and provides additional context.
"A glorious Milky Way looms over a thunderstorm that lights up the Florida sky. The photographer wanted to show the great contrast between stable (Milky Way) and moving (thunderstorm) objects in the sky." — Tianyuan Xiao
"One of the brightest nebulae, the M42 or the Orion Nebula, is located in the Milky Way south of Orion’s belt. It is an emission nebula about 1500 light years away in the constellation Orion. This image was produced by combining 36 hours of total exposure using six different filters; Ha, SII, OIII, Red, Green, and Blue. The central Trapezium cluster of the nebula is so bright that it is usually over exposed with the long exposures needed for the nebula. In this image a series of short 3-second exposures in each filter were blended with the long exposures to create a high dynamic range image that produces detail in the faint nebula and bright Trapezium." — Bernard Miller
"Taken from Tivoli Southern Sky Guest Farm in Namibia, the great Horsehead nebula is overlooking the striking and often overlooked Nebula NGC 2023. At 4 light years in diameter it is one of the largest reflection nebulae ever discovered." — Kfir Simon
"Camelopardalis, also known as the Hidden Galaxy is one of the largest Galaxies visible from the Northern Hemisphere; however it is also obscured by foreground stars and dust, as it lies in the Milky Way plane. The photographer added a Ha filter to this LRGB image in order to enhance the emission nebula regions in the galaxy and after stacking single exposures (subs) the brilliant spiral arms at the core were revealed." — Tom O'Donoghue and Olly Penrice
"The Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16, is a young open cluster of stars, surrounded by hot hydrogen gas in the constellation Serpens and lies at a distance of 7,000 light years from Earth. Taken at the Baerenstein Observatory in Germany, the photo is a RGB-Ha-OIII image and shows off the radiant red and blue colours of the nebula. In the centre you can spot the famous Pillars of Creation." — Marcel Drechsler
"Taken during a summer night in Mingantu in Inner Mongolia, star trails are sweeping over the colourful and extraordinary sacred altars, called Ovoo, creating a spectacular painting." — Qiqige Zhao
"These spectacular reflection nebulae in the Corona Australis constellation depict the characteristic vivid blue color produced by the light of hot stars, reflected by silica-based cosmic dust. A rare high resolution view of the cores NGC 6726 and 6727 is captured on camera. The data was acquired by Star Shadows Remote Observatory at CTIO's PROMPT2, using LRGB filters, stacked with CCDStack and post-processed in Photoshop and PixInsight." — Mark Hanson, Warren Keller, Steve Mazlin, Rex Parker, Tommy Tse, David Plesko and Pete Proulx
"The Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976, is a diffuse nebula situated in the Milky Way, south of Orion's Belt in the constellation of Orion. It is one of the brightest nebulae and is visible to the naked eye during a clear night sky. M42 is 1270 light years from our planet and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. It is estimated to be 24 light years across and it has a mass of about 2,000 times more than that of the Sun. This image is the result of the efforts of two astrophotographers using different equipment from their observatories.Located hundreds of kilometres away from each other, they chose the Orion Sword are as a common target to render. The software suites used in this image are Maxim DL, Pixinsight and Photoshop CC 2017." — Miguel Angel García Borrella and Lluis Romero Ventura
"The Milky Way stretches across the night sky between four columns in the ancient Atashkooh Fire Temple near Mahllat city in Iran. The camera was placed on the ground in the centre of the four columns, and with no use of any other equipment, the photographer managed to capture our magnificent galaxy using just one image." — Masoud Ghadiri
"The magical Aurora Borealis explodes from the clouds and looms over the mountains in Stokknes on the south coast of Iceland. Snow has melted and created pools of water between the dunes, creating a perfect foreground for this image." — Jingyi Zhang
"On a family trip to Cornwall after visiting Kynance Cove, on the Lizard Peninsula, the beautiful landscape seemed to be the ideal place for the photographer to capture the glimmering stars and the striking colours of the Milky Way illuminating the beautiful rocky coastline. This is a composition of two separate exposures, one for the sky and one for the foreground blended together post-processing to achieve the desired result, producing a more even exposure." — Ainsley Bennett
"The Milky Way rises above an isolated lighthouse in Tasmania. The photographer planned his position to shoot the perfect composition positioning the Milky Way in conjunction with the lighthouse and observing how to best light the tower for artistic effect. This image is part of a time-lapse sequence, allowing the photographer some time to climb the tower into the lantern room of the lighthouse and reflect on the hard and lonely, yet incredible life the former lighthouse keepers would have lived." — James Stone
"The International Space Station (ISS) was captured between two massive sunspots, the AR 12674 and AR 12673, during its solar transit. The image was taken in Madrid and it took ISS less than a second to cross the solar disk." — Dani Caxete
"A remarkable display of the Northern Lights reflecting shades of green and yellow on the snow. Squeezed into a tiny cave on Lake Torneträsk, in Swedish Lapland, in minus 26 degrees with the camera lens just a few centimeters away from the icicles, it was a challenge well worth it for the photographer." — Arild Heitmann
"The Black Church at Búðir in Iceland beneath the stripes of the Aurora Borealis and the bright stars in the night sky. Fighting the worst weather the photographer had ever encountered in Snæfellsnes Peninsula and with strong gale winds around 30 meters per second on the night the image was taken, his hard work paid off." — Mikkel Beiter
"A weathered juniper tree in Montana's northern Rocky Mountains is filled with arced star trails and in the centre sits Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. It took several test frames of long exposures to make sure that Polaris was in the right position, but eventually things lined up and the Moon provided enough light to the foreground, yet plenty of dark skies to allow a high enough ISO to capture lots of stars." — Jake Mosher
"The Milky Way rises over some of the oldest trees on Earth in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, set within the Inyo National Forest along the White Mountains in California. Growing at altitudes of over 10,000 feet, these trees can live for over 4,000 years. The high elevation also results in thin air and incredibly dark skies on display. This photograph was taken in between rolling thunderstorms which were passing through the Eastern Sierras, leaving time for only a few exposures." — Jez Hughes
"This panoramic image, composed out of eight photos, depicts the Milky Way emerging over the rocky Dolomites in Tre Crime on the left and on the right the lights from a house illuminating the beautiful terrain. The photographer noted that the image represents sharing unforgettable moment with the ones you love." — Carlos F. Turienzo
"After a few days of cloudy skies the photographer finally got the chance to use his birthday present, a new telescope. The clouds were moving fast so there was not much time to capture the Moon. With the help of his grandfather who kept moving the telescope and trying to keep an iPad at the right position, he managed to capture this wonderful and artistic image of his first viewing of our Moon." — Casper Kentish
"The photographer captured the splendor of our galaxy in Badlands National Park, in South Dakota and is a panoramic view of a 6-shot composite, three for the sky and three for the foreground, all of which were taken successively using the same gear and equivalent exposure settings, from the same location, within a short period. The raw files were initially processed in Lightroom for lens correction only, followed by merging to panorama in Photoshop. Final retouching was applied back in Lightroom, including WB correction, basic toning and local adjustments." — Jingpeng Liu
"A flared up Aurora reflects bright pink and yellow colours on the water at Southern Bays near Christchurch, New Zealand. The incredible combination of the radiant Aurora colours, the wide green fields and the dark blue, starry night sky paint a spectacular picture and accentuates the wonders of our galaxy." — Paul Wilson
"During a solar eclipse, the brightness of the solar corona hides the details of the moon. By layering 9 exposures ranging from 2 seconds to 1/2000th of a second and with Extreme High Dynamic Range photography or XHDR the image shows not just the radiant solar corona, but the newest possible of new moons, seen here illuminated by sunlight reflecting off the earth." — Peter Ward
"Exploring the remarkable underbelly of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial tongue in Iceland. With this image the photographer wanted to pay tribute to the serenity and wonder he felt while he spent some time in this peaceful and magnificent place." — Dave Brosha
"Earth's only natural satellite is situated above the horizon of our planet so it is visible during daytime and the waxing gibbous phase can clearly be seen in the sky. The photographer captured this imposing image in Malaga, Spain while vacationing with her children." — Helen Schofield
"A phenomenal image depicting the incredible colours and details of the surface of the Moon. The photographer applied a similar procedure he used for capturing the solar eclipse and noted that this lit up the full Moon like a Christmas tree ornament, with a great variety of hues and shades." — Nicolas Lefaudeux
"The magnificent Milky Way stretches across the night sky reflecting on the Cable Bay near Nelson, New Zealand. The photographer had to take the picture before the light washed out the sky. 42 individual images were stitched in to a large multi row panorama to create this image." — Mark Gee
"The conditions the night the image was taken were not ideal because of the bright moon lighting up the sky. The photographer managed to overcome this obstacle and capture the incredible Aurora Borealis above the fjord at Haukland in the gorgeous Lofoten archipelago, Northern Norway. The small pool of water with rocks made the perfect foreground and a natural leading line into the frame." — Mikkel Beiter
"From the city of Yaroslavl in Russia to the coast of the Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, a party of three travelled 2000 kilometers to capture the magnificent Northern Lights. The photographer stayed in the village of Teriberka in the Murmansk Oblast district for five days. After four days of bad weather, with heavy snow and thick clouds the sky finally cleared on the last day and the Northern Lights appeared in all their glory." — Michael Zav'yalov
"The sunspot AR2665 was one of the most active regions in 2017 on the right you can see a phenomenal quiescent prominence extending from our star, the Sun. This type of prominence lasts for a very long time and its structure is quite stable. The photo is a composition of two images: one of the magnificent prominence and one of the Sun’s surface. The surface is much brighter than the prominence so it is a negative to reveal details of Sun chromosphere (spicules and filaments)." — Łukasz Sujka
"Andromeda Galaxy has always amazed the photographer. The dust lanes and bright star clusters in its arms, the emblematic galaxy shape of it, and the magnificent look of this great star city make it one of his most desired objects to photograph. This image was taken using a 200mm mirror and creating a three panel mosaic." — Péter Feltóti
"In high resolution planetary photography having a good view of a planet is a key factor but also completely out of a photographer’s control. In this image the photographer was lucky to capture our second largest planet, Saturn, in all its glory. After stacking 4,000 out of 10,000 frames we can admire details such as the beautiful polar hexagon, the Encke Division and even the crepe ring." — Avani Soares