Jaw-Dropping Space Pics: UK Contest to Pick Astronomy Photographer of the Year

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Judging is underway to choose the most beautiful photos of the night sky from among thousands of entries in the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.

The competition is being held by England's Royal Observatory Greenwich, which will award cash prizes in various categories, including photos of objects in our solar system, in the wider cosmos, and scenic pics of a dazzling sky over landscapes on Earth.

Photos submitted for the awards range from surreal green streaks through the sky caused by the northern lights over Canada, to an eerily red-looking moon captured during a lunar eclipse, and glowing stars, gas and dust in the star cluster IC 1396.

"Shortlisted entries include a breath-taking view of stars over snow-covered Japanese mountains; the full Moon setting behind a historic abbey on Mount Pirchiriano in Italy; a meteor streaking through the sky above a rock formation in Utah, USA; and a group of friends stargazing at a caravan site in the Gower Peninsular, South Wales," Royal Observatory Greenwich officials wrote in a statement. "The diversity of locations is not just limited to Earth. Photographers have also captured sights from across our solar system, galaxy and beyond; from detailed mosaics of our moon's surface, to shimmering dust columns in distant nebulae, and out beyond the Milky Way to the swirling Andromeda Galaxy." [Photos: Royal Observatory’s 2012 Space Photographer of the Year Finalists]

Now in its fourth year, the contest has gathered judges from diverse backgrounds, including journalists, scientists, historians and artists, to choose the winners. The final selections will be announced Sept. 19, and the awards ceremony will be tweeted live on Twitter using the hashtag #astrophoto12.

The overall winner of the title Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012 will be awarded £1,500 ($2,374), with £500 ($792) given to the winners of subcategories: Earth and Space, Our Solar System, Deep Space: and Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year. Special prizes will also be given in these categories: People and Space, Best Newcomer, and Robotic Scope Image of the Year.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich is the spot where the Prime Meridian line is drawn, separating the eastern and western hemispheres of Earth. The observatory, which was founded in 1675, is also where Greenwich Mean Time is kept.

Though the submission period for this year's contest has already closed, if you've taken a great photo of space and would like to share it with SPACE.com for a possible gallery or article, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com.