The winners of the fourth UK Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition were announced yesterday -- and boy are there some gems amongst them. Organised by the Royal Observatory, the contest generates stiff competition, so it's no wonder that the overall winner -- pictured above -- is absolutely breathtaking.
It shows the M51 galaxy, which is often referred to as the Whirlpool because it's the archetypal spiral galaxy. It's been studied, sketched and photographed for centuries -- but photographer Martin Pugh managed to take advantage of exceptionally stable atmospheric conditions to capture one of the most clear images of it to date. It was named winner of the Deep Space category, and nabbed the overall title of best photograph too.
With a view closer to home, Masahiro Miyasaka's image of Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades as a backdrop to a frozen landscape, above, clinched victory in the Earth and Space category. The cool, blue light of the stars complements the Earthly chill beautifully -- but in reality those stars are a scorching 30,000C.
Finally, while Chris Warren's shot pictured above may not look much to the untrained eye, it is in fact quite remarkable. This atmnospheric image, winner of the Our Solar System category, shows off the recent transit of Venus in fine detail. Taken in London earlier this year, it's a rare photograph indeed -- and one that won't be repeated for another 105 years.
Images: The Royal Observatory