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Out of this world: The best astronomy photos of the year

The following photos are shortlisted in 2017's Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year. The awards will be announced on September 14, and the exhibition opens September 16 at The Royal Observatory Greenwich

A stargazer observes the constellation of the Big Dipper perfectly aligned with the window of the entrance to a large glacier cave in Engadin, Switzerland. This is a panorama of two pictures, and each is a stack of another two pictures: one for the stars and another one for the foreground, but with no composing or time blending.

Engadin, Graubünden, Switzerland, 29 December 2016 

Nicholas Roemmelt

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A large, searing hedgerow prominence extends from the surface of the Sun on 29 August 2016. There are a number of different prominence types that have been observed emanating from the Sun, and the hedgerow prominence is so called due the grouping of small prominences resembling rough and wild shrubbery.

Dover, Kent, UK, 29 August 2016

The radiant, concentric star trails seemingly spinning over a lone stargazer against the glowing purples and pinks of the night sky during the hour when the clocks ‘spring forward’ to begin British Summer Time. With time so intrinsically linked to celestial activity, a one-hour star trail seemed the perfect metaphor. Through the use of long exposures, the trails depict the rotation of the Earth on its axis centring on the north celestial pole, the sky moving anti-clockwise around this point.

Titchfield, Hampshire, UK, 26th March 2017

Solar Trails above the Telescope. Taken with a solargraphy pinhole camera, the image charts the movement of the Sun over the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague with an exposure of half a year (21 December 2015–21 June 2016). As a photosensitive material, regular black-and-white photographic paper without developing was used, and after exposure the negative was scanned and post-processed using a graphic program (colour and contrast enhancement). The exposure time was from solstice to solstice, thus recording the solar trails above the telescope dome and the rainbow of colours of the trails are the result of the sensitivity of the paper changing as it is exposed to different temperatures and humidity.

The starburst galaxy M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy, gleams five times brighter than our galaxy lies some 12 million light years away from Earth in the constellation of Ursa Major. In a show of radiant oranges and reds, the superwind bursts out from the galaxy, believed to be the closest place to our planet in which the conditions are similar to that of the early Universe, where a plethora of stars are forming.

Animas, New Mexico, USA, 22 February 2017

The Sun photographed in Calcium-K light, depicting the star’s inner chromosphere. In the colour-rendering scheme used, the surface is shown as negative, with the sunspots as bright spots, but the area outside the limb is shown with increased contrast, highlighting a surge on the western limb, and several small prominences. Although the Sun is shown entering a quieter phase, a lot of activity is still taking place, illustrating just how dynamic our star is.

Groningen, Netherlands, 4 April 2017 

NGC 7331 is an unbarred spiral galaxy found some 40 million light years away from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus. Of the group of galaxies known as the Deer Lick Group, NGC 7331 is the largest, and can be seen dominating the image whilst the smaller galaxies NGC 7335, NGC 7336, NGC 7337, NGC 7338 and NGC 7340 drift above it.

Animas, New Mexico, USA, 30 October 2016

Orion’s Gaseous Nebula © Sebastien Grech (UK) Lying 1,300 light years away from Earth, the Orion Nebula is found in Orion’s Sword in the famous constellation named after the blade’s owner. The Orion Nebula is one of the most photographed and studied objects in the night sky due to the intense activity within the stellar nursery that sees thousands of new stars being created, which also makes it a relatively easy target for beginners. The nebula is thought to measure about 24 light years across and have a mass 2000 times that of our Sun.

London, UK, 15 February 2017 

Lying in the constellation of Gemini, IC443 is a galactic supernova remnant, a star that could have exploded as many as 30,000 years ago. Its globular appearance has earned the celestial structure the moniker of the Jellyfish Nebula. Pictured to the upper left of the Jellyfish Nebula is a much fainter background area of nebulosity, which is actually a large cloud of mostly molecular hydrogen gas and dust.. ‘The Jellyfish’ is a convoluted tangle of gaseous filaments rapidly expanding away from the initial explosion. Professional observatory data shows that what we are actually seeing are two lobes superimposed on each other, but from this angle one appears as the head of the jellyfish (to the left) and the other lobe (to the right) as the dangling tentacles. It is illuminated by a few young blue embedded stars and criss-crossed by tendrils of dark dust clouds lying between us and the bright nebula.

Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK, 29 November 2016

 The setting crescent Moon and Mars gaze over Saltfjellet, Norway as the Northern Lights appear to emanate from the snowy landscape. The Aurora Borealis were an unexpected guest in the shot as the Sun was only about ten degrees under the horizon meaning the early display came as a surprise.

Saltfjellet, Nordland, Norway, 30 March 2017 

The magnificent sight of the Super Moon illuminating the night sky as it sets behind the Marmarole, in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy. On the night of 14 November 2016, the Moon was at perigee at 356.511 km away from the centre of Earth, the closest occurrence since 1948. It will not be closer again until 2034. On this night, the Moon was 30% brighter and 14% bigger than other full moons.

Laggio di Cadore, Province of Belluno, Italy, 15 November 2016 

The stars beam down on to the Meili Snow Mountains, also known as the Prince Snow Mountains - the highest peaks in the Yunnan Province, China. It is world-renowned for its beauty and is one of the most sacred mountains in Tibetan Buddhism. The moonlight striking the top of the mountains appears to give them an ethereal quality.

DeQin, Yunnan Province, China, 16 January 2017 

A shooting star flashes across the sky over the craggy landscape of Portland, Dorset, as our neighbouring planet Venus looks on. The image is of two stacked exposures: one for the sky and one for the rocks.

Portland, Dorset, UK, 25 March 2017

The seemingly pop art inspired canvas of the rainbow of colours exhibited by the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. These colours are obvious to the naked eye and more so through the eyepiece of a telescope, but are difficult to capture in an image. To do this the photographer had to somehow ‘freeze’ each colour as it happened by taking a series of videos at different levels of focus and then extracted the frames from each video to make up this composite image. By capturing the star out of focus, the light from Sirius was spread out over a larger area, which resulted in the colours it displayed being more obvious. The image is made up of 782 different frames at different levels of focus. There is a single frame of a focused Sirius in the centre of the image.

Stokesley, North Yorkshire, UK, 11 January 2016

The reflection in the wave ripples of Skagsanden beach mirrors the brilliant green whirls of the Aurora Borealis in the night sky overhead. To obtain the effect of the shiny surface, the photographer had to stand in the wave zone of the incoming flood, and only when the water receded very low did the opportunity to capture the beautiful scene occur.

Skagsanden, Lofoten, Norway, 28 October 2016

The distant ice giant Uranus, the seventh furthest planet from the Sun, some 2.6 billion kilometres (at its closest) away from our own planet is entered into the competition for the first time. Found in the constellation of Pisces, here it can be seen surrounded by its five brightest moons: Ariel, Miranda, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon. Taken on an exceptionally still night in late December, an infrared filter was used to further improve the viewing and to bring out the planet's belt and cloud details. As the planet lies so far away and appears so dim to us on Earth, Uranus seems to be tiny at 3.7-arcseconds across.

St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, 29 December 2016 

Noctilucent clouds stretch across the Swedish sky illuminating a motorcyclist’s ride home in this dramatic display. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere and form above 200,000 ft. Thought to be formed of ice crystals, the clouds occasionally become visible at twilight when the Sun is below the horizon and illuminates them.

Near Umeå, Sweden, 8 August 2016 

Near Earth Asteroid 164121 (2003 YT1) made a close encounter with Earth at 3 million miles. This Apollo asteroid with an orbital period of 427 days was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey on 18 December 2003. The photographer’s first attempt at imaging the asteroid was done with a camera on a fixed tripod, controlled by Astrophotography Tool software. The asteroid moved so fast I could see it moving on the live screen. The negative image is a stack of 56 cropped images created using PIPP and Deep Sky Stacker software and was processed with IrfanView and Photoshop for scientific content rather than cosmetic appearance.

Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK, 2 November 2016

An unexpected shot of the Moon rising over the glistening ocean off the Wairarapa coast, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Sun. As the photographer was capturing the sunset over Castlepoint, he looked over his shoulder to see the Moon rising behind, reflecting off the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and it became the new subject of his image.

Wellington, New Zealand, 11 February 2017 

The International Space Station (ISS) whizzes across the dusky face of the Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon, whilst photographed in broad daylight. Shining with a magnitude of -3.5, the ISS was illuminated by the Sun at a height of 9º on the horizon. Like the Moon, the ISS receives solar rays in a similar way during its 15 orbits of the Earth a day, making it possible to see it when the Sun is still up. This is a real shot, with no composite or clipping in the process.

Madrid, Spain, 2 April 2017

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