10 Of The Year’s Most Stunning Space Photos

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition showcases awe-inspiring science photos that capture everything from stargazers to deep space. A few competitors aren't even old enough to drive.

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M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy

This shot by Martin Pugh took top honors in the overall and “Deep Space” categories–and for good reason. As an archetypal example of a spiral galaxy, it’s an often-seen, often-photographed heavenly body, but here it looks detailed and fresh.

Elephant’s Trunk

The winner of “Best Newcomer” doesn’t seem amateurish at all, even though he’s claiming it’s only his 34th photo. A nebula on the right is curling around radiation from young stars on the left.

Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction

Venus and Jupiter coming close together is something of an optical illusion–really, they’re still vastly far apart–but that doesn’t make this image, which won the “People and Space” category, any less spectacular. Fun fact on the eerie lighting: red lighting is used by astronomers because it shows the way without messing up their night vision gadgets.

Star Icefall

This photo, which won in the “Earth and Space” category, should be getting extra points for making terra firma seem like space, too. The judges particularly liked the lines in the ice leading you skyward to Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades.

Transit of Venus 2012 in Hydrogen-Alpha

One of the great astronomical events of the year, the transit of Venus almost couldn’t be seen in some parts of the world. Here, it peeks out for the U.K., giving photographer Chris Warren a chance to snap a photo. It took first in the “Our Solar System” category.

Pleiades Cluster

This is great, and the photographer is just 15. Jacob von Chorus pulled top honors in the “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year” category for this photo of the nearby Pleiades star cluster. We can’t wait to see what he ends up submitting a few years down the road.

The Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63, aka The Sunflower Galaxy, looks lonely here. The winner of the “Robotic Scope” category, the technical assistance helped it reach the distant galaxy, but you can still see from the blankness around it that it’s a long way to go.

Sky Away from the Lights

This is Uludag National Park in Bursa, Turkey, but it could be a snapshot of a fuzzy dream. “The lights of towns and villages down below were greatly diffused by the dust, haze and humidity accompanying the heat wave of July–August 2010,” Tunç Tezel said. “Normally, it is either very clear or the lower lands are lost under the clouds all together.” The shot was “highly commended” in the “Earth and Space” category.

Simeis 147 Supernova Remnant

A supernova remnant, Simeis 147 looks like a network of veins drifting through space in this surreal photo. It won runner-up in the “Deep Space” category, but there’s nothing second-rate about it.

Daytime Lunar Mosaic

We see the Moon every day, but this mosaic gives us a high-resolution look, with visible mountains and lunar “seas.” It’s another entry in the “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year,” meaning taken by another 15-year-old: Laurent V. Joli-Coeur.