Every year the Royal Observatory’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition pushes the envelope on what it means to capture the beauty of the heavens. The competition, now in its 13th year, is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine. In 2021, it received over 4,500 entries from people located in 75 countries across the globe.
There are nine categories covering skyscapes, aurorae, our Sun, the Moon, objects in the solar system, stars and nebulae, galaxies, and a special one for young people. Each of them will have a winner, a runner-up, and a highly commended piece. There are also two special prizes: the Manju Mehrotra Family Trust Prize for Best Newcomer and the Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation, which is for the best-processed images from open-source data from established telescopes. Among these winners, the judges will select an overall winner who will take home a £10,000 prize.
The winner will be announced at a live ceremony on September 16 that will be streamed online. Until then, here are some of the beautiful images that have been shortlisted this year.
Glory of Damavand and Milky Way © Masoud Ghadiri (Iran)
The photographer describes Mount Damavand as one of the most beautiful natural wonders of Iran and looking at this picture we can see why. Ghadiri hiked for seven hours and climbed over 1,000 meters (0.6 miles) to reach this place and snap this beautiful image.
Star Fall © Wang Zheng (China)
In the Tengger Desert, located in Minqin County, there's a peculiar sculpture that is supposed to represent raindrops falling in this arid land. Thanks to Zheng's photograph this gains a new dimension as the metal column reflects the majesty of the Milky Way.
Comet Neowise over Stonehenge © James Rushforth (UK)
Comet NEOWISE was bright in the sky last year. It's a comet coming close to the Sun every 6,800 years so the last time it was visible, the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in the UK had not been built yet.
Dolphin Head Nebula © Yovin Yahathugoda (Sri Lanka)
This beautiful nebula is created and shaped in this cosmic bubble by the star right in the middle of it. Yahathugoda struggled for over a month to get the right conditions to get this image, the result of 1.5 hours of total exposure time over three nights.
A Daytime Transit © Andrew McCarthy (USA)
It's not just about the nighttime when it comes to astrophotography. McCarthy snaps a beautiful image of the waning crescent moon during the day as the International Space Station passes in front of it.
Iceland Vortex © Larryn Rae (New Zealand)
The selfie game is strong. Photographer Larryn Rae captures himself on the Icelandic ice as it reflects the northern lights in this beautiful 250 degrees panorama.
NGC 3981 © Bernard Miller (USA)
NGC 3981 is losing its spiral arms in the interaction with another galaxy, creating a truly peculiar look for this beautiful cosmic body.
Waterfall © Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints (Israel)
The photo was supposed to just feature the star trails. Dobrovolskaya-Mints set to record them as she was waiting for an aurora to start but also captured the beginning of the northern lights, creating this beautiful composition.
NGC 6723, NGC 6726, NGC 6727 and NGC 6729 - Dark Molecular Cloud in Corona Australis © Steven Mohr (Australia)
Sometimes more is better, so check out this fantastic image of a crowded bit of the sky featuring a globular cluster (NGC 6723) and the three nebulae that make up the Dark Molecular Cloud.
Aurora in Murmansk © Vitaliy Novikov (Russia)
Capturing the northern lights in the middle of a city is far from easy, but several attempts over many hours paid off for Novikov, who captured this beautiful shot.
Bicolour Veil Nebula © Péter Feltóti (Hungary)
The photographer took images of the Veil nebula with two filters, showing the hydrogen and oxygen emissions of the gas left over by an ancient supernova.
Sunspot Looking out into Space © Siu Fone Tang (USA)
This enhanced image is a combination of multiple frames looking at the sun in a particular wavelength. Inverted in color, the image gives prominence to the sunspot, usually a dark feature on the Sun and here seen as a bright one.
The Cave © Markus van Hauten (Germany)
The cave and sky (each taken with different exposures) are merged into the eerie image of this glacial structure in Iceland.
Château de Chambord © Benjamin Barakat (UK)
This shot of the château in Chambord, in Centre-Val de Loire, France was a tricky one for a peculiar reason. Its lighting system is only off for one minute every 15, so the photographer really had to work fast in those precious minutes to grab the right shots for this beautiful composition.