Infinity and Beyond! Best Astronomy Photographs of the Year

These sights are truly out of this world.

The rings of Saturn. Gaseous, swirling Jupiter and its tiny moons. The dying remnants of a long-ago supernova. The amazing winners of the third annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition were announced last week from over 800 entries.

Spectacular images of the heavens were captured from all over -- the Himalayan Mountains, the Cook Islands, and even Death Valley -- provided by a conglomeration of first-timers, enthusiastic amateurs, and professional photographers.

“This competition provides a great opportunity to celebrate the best astrophotography in the past year and to share these gorgeous, inspiring images with a large audience,” Olivia Johnson, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory and also a judge in the competition, told

Johnson believes that amateur astronomers have an increasingly important role to play, beyond just pretty pictures.

“[They] make many contributions to our increasing knowledge of the universe around us, such as reporting scientifically useful observations of objects which are too time-consuming or unpredictable to monitor with research telescopes -- such as the changing brightness of variable stars and fireball sightings,” Johnson explained.

Trying to objectively judge hundreds of images can be an arduous task, but Johnson had a keen sense of what made a photograph great.

“The images that really blow me away are those that are that show me something unexpected and make me think about things in space and our relationship to them in a new way,” she told “This can be through artful framing, unusual choice of subject, or sheer technical skill which is able to capture detail I didn't think it was possible to see without research-grade telescopes.”

She also had some advice for would-be submitters for next year’s competition -- and the barriers to entry are quite low.

“Get stuck in! While some of the winning images this year required specialist equipment and incredible expertise, others were taken by beginners using just an ordinary digital camera,” Johnson told

“Many people are surprised how easy it can be to take beautiful pictures of the night sky, and there are a lot of free online guides available to help you get started.”

An exhibition for the winning photos will be held at the Royal Observatory Greenwich Until February 12, 2012.