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In Pictures: Capturing the Magic of the Milky Way

The Royal Observatory’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is back! The awards contest, which is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine, is currently in its 13th year and gives an opportunity to the world’s best astrophotography stars to show us the wonders of our universe through some incredible visuals.

This year, the competition received over 4,500 entries from 75 countries across the globe. A photograph of the annular solar eclipse taken in Tibet has been awarded the top prize. Other winning images include an ethereal shot of the California Nebula and an extraordinary panorama of the ring of the Milky Way. As if that's not enough, there's even a unique photograph of a unique cosmic "smiley" on the list. 

Here’s a look at all the jaw-dropping winning pictures from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021.

Related: Mind-Blowing Images From the 2019 Astronomy Photo Contest

“The Golden Ring” by Shuchang Dong (China). Overall Winner, Winner – Our Sun

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, solar eclipse
There was an annular solar eclipse on 21 June 2020, and the photographer had arrived in Ali in Tibet to shoot it. Dark clouds all over the sky only added to the thrill of the moment.

“California Dreamin' NGC 1499” by Terry Hancock (UK). Winner – Stars and Nebulae

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Stars and Nebulae
The photographer captured the California Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 1499, over seven nights in 2021. This cosmic cloud, which is around 100 light-years long, resembles the outline of California on the west coast of the United States and hence is so named. (Location: Whitewater, Colorado, USA.)

“Luna Dunes” by Jeffrey Lovelace (USA). Winner – Skyscapes

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Dunes
The moon shines over quiet dunes of sand at the Death Valley National Park, California, USA.

“Perseverance” by Damian Peach (UK). Runner-Up – Planets, Comets, and Asteroids

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Planets
This view of Mars from the El Sauce Observatory in Río Hurtado, Coquimbo Region, Chile, is truly glorious. You can also see the three giant Tharsis Montes volcanoes, each of them about 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) high, emerge from the clouds on the right of the image.

"Polar Lights Dance” by Dmitrii Rybalka (Russia). Winner – Aurorae

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Polar Lights
This surreal photo was taken by the Third Officer of a ship at the Kara Strait, Russia.

“The Milky Ring” by Zhong Wu (China). Winner – Galaxies

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Milky Ring
The ring of the Milky Way, consisting of cosmic dust, stars, and nebulae has been captured magnificently here. This creative panorama took two years to complete and covers the entire galaxy visible from planet Earth.

“Beyond the Limb” by Nicolas Lefaudeux (France). Winner – Our Moon

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Moon, Venus
This image shows Venus just before it gets covered by the Moon, as observed from Earth in daylight on 19 June 2020. (Location: Forges-les-Bains, Île-de-France, France)

“Lockdown” by Deepal Ratnayaka (UK). Winner – People and Space

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest,
In this frame, the photographer’s six-year-old daughter is seen keenly observing the stars during 2020’s lockdown in the U.K. (Location: Windsor, Berkshire, UK)

“Celestial Fracture” by Leonardo Di Maggio (UK). Winner (Joint) – The Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, collage
The photographer used a selection of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) team’s photographs of Saturn to create this unique piece. 

“Family Photo of the Solar System” by 至璞 王 (Zhipu Wang) (China), aged 15. Winner – Young Competition

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Solar System
This image shows the Sun, the Moon, and the planets of the Solar System apart from Earth and was taken in Yongtai, Fujian, China.

“Another Cloudy Day on Jupiter” by Sergio Díaz Ruiz (Spain). Winner (Joint) – The Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Jupiter
High clouds on Jupiter create elaborate and beautiful shapes that swirl all over the planet as shown here.

“A Smiley in Space” by Nicolas Rolland (France) and Martin Pugh (Australia). Highly Commended – Galaxies

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, stars
NGC 1055 is an edge-on spiral galaxy with a prominent nuclear bulge that’s crossed by a dark lane of gas and dust. In this photo, colorful stars around NGC 1055 can be seen in the foreground, inside the Milky Way. From a distance, this almost looks like a cosmic smiley!

“A Colorful Quadrantid Meteor” by Frank Kuszaj (USA). Winner – Planets, Comets, and Asteroids

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest, Meteor
The photographer was shooting the Leo Triplet galaxies with his friends and had set up his camera for the same when they suddenly came across a bright green meteor burning right before their eyes. Thankfully, the camera managed to capture this awesome moment. (Location: Cook Station, Missouri, USA)
Share these beautiful photos with your friends and family!
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