Here Are 16 of the Best Astronomy Photos of 2021

Here Are 16 of the Best Astronomy Photos of 2021

The shortlisted entries have been chosen for the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. From stunning sunsets on Mars to spectacular views of Saturn and stellar nurseries, these photos will transport you across the cosmos.

This is the 13th running of the annual contest, organised by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine. The winning images will be announced at a special online ceremony on September 16, 2021, and then put on display at the National Maritime Museum, alongside a selection of exceptional shortlisted images. Here’s a selection of our favourite shortlisted candidates.

Comet NEOWISE over Stonehenge

Comet NEOWISE was visible to the unaided in during the spring and summer of 2020.  (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/James Rushforth (UK)) Comet NEOWISE was visible to the unaided in during the spring and summer of 2020. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/James Rushforth (UK))

Comet NEOWISE paid our inner solar system a visit last year. Here it is shown above Stonehenge in the UK — a site that didn’t exist when the comet last came through some 6,800 years ago (Stonehenge was built about 5,000 years ago).

Bicolor Veil Nebula

The remnant of a giant supernova explosion. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Péter Feltóti (Hungary)) The remnant of a giant supernova explosion. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Péter Feltóti (Hungary))

Called the Veil Nebula complex, this is the remnant of a giant supernova explosion. This image was captured by a camera mounted to a SkyWatcher Newton telescope.

Luna Park

A star-streaked backdrop at the entrance of Luna Park in Sydney, Australia.  (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Ed Hurst (Australia)) A star-streaked backdrop at the entrance of Luna Park in Sydney, Australia. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Ed Hurst (Australia))

Thousands of frames were required to produce this shot, showing streaks of stars set behind the iconic entrance to Luna Park in Sydney, Australia.

Martian Sunset

A Martian sunset, as captured by NASA's Curiosity rover on April 15, 2015. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/John White (UK)/NASA-JPL/Caltech) A Martian sunset, as captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on April 15, 2015. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/John White (UK)/NASA-JPL/Caltech)

NASA’s Curiosity rover captured this sunset on Mars, but photographer John White from the UK managed to find this sequence among the nearly 390,000 images tucked away in the Mars Curiosity raw archive. He then filtered the images to produce the lovely set you see here.

Saturn at its Best

Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Damian Peach (UK) Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Damian Peach (UK)

Saturn, as imaged from a ground-based telescope on July 217, 2020. The planet’s bands are clearly visible, including the south polar hexagonal region.

Dolphin Head Nebula

This nebula is also known as Sharpless 308 (Sh2-308). (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Yovin Yahathugoda (Sri Lanka)) This nebula is also known as Sharpless 308 (Sh2-308). (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Yovin Yahathugoda (Sri Lanka))

An incredible view of the Dolphin Head Nebula, revealing a celestial bubble carved by interstellar winds and other forces. The bright star at centre, a Wolf-Rayet star, is responsible for the feature. This image was taken by a camera mounted to an ASA 500N telescope.

Sunrise of the Magic City

Four different exposures showing a sunrise over Shanghai.  (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jiajun Hua (China)) Four different exposures showing a sunrise over Shanghai. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jiajun Hua (China))

A smoggy view of Shanghai on the morning of February 7, 2021.

Sunspot Looking Out Into Space

A sunspot on the Sun's chromosphere. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Siu Fone Tang (USA)) A sunspot on the Sun’s chromosphere. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Siu Fone Tang (USA))

An incredible view of a sunspot, and its associated plasma. Imaged with a hydrogen-alpha filter, it’s made up of multiple frames stacked together and adjusted with imaging software. The inverted view heightens the contrast.

The Exceptionally Active Ion Tail of Comet 2020F8 SWAN

A view of comet 2020F8 SWAN, which eventually disintegrated. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Gerald Rhemann (Austria)) A view of comet 2020F8 SWAN, which eventually disintegrated. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Gerald Rhemann (Austria))

An exquisitely detailed view of Comet 2020F8 SWAN, which was visible in both the north and south hemispheres during the course of 2020. The comet eventually disintegrated.

A Daytime Transit

A view of the ISS. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Andrew McCarthy (USA)) A view of the ISS. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Andrew McCarthy (USA))

A unique view of the International Space Station, shown transiting the Moon on October 14, 2020.

The Soul of Space

A close-up view of the Soul Nebula.  (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Kush Chandaria (UK)) A close-up view of the Soul Nebula. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Kush Chandaria (UK))

A stunning image of the Soul Nebula. Equally impressive: The photographer, Kush Chandaria, is just 13 years old.

Pleiades Sisters

Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jashanpreet Singh Dingra (India) Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jashanpreet Singh Dingra (India)

Photographer Singh Dingra, 14, captured this spectacular view of the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45. Total exposure time was 3 hours and 2 minutes, and the chosen telescope was a Takahashi FSQ-85ED.

The Rose

A deep view of the Messier 57 nebula. Note the distant galaxy in the background.  (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Josep Drudis (USA)) A deep view of the Messier 57 nebula. Note the distant galaxy in the background. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Josep Drudis (USA))

The Messier 57 nebula shown in infrared, with hydrogen visible in red, oxygen in green and blue, and nitrogen in deep red. A camera mounted to a Planewave CDK24 telescope made this image possible.

The Full Moon in Moscow

A view of the Moon from Hodnyka park in Moscow. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Anna Kaunis (Russia)) A view of the Moon from Hodnyka park in Moscow. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Anna Kaunis (Russia))

The full Moon rises behind a Moscow apartment, as seen on July 3, 2020.

NGC 6188 SHOrgb by Cielaustral Team

The NGC 6188 nebula. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jean-Claude Canonne, Didier Chaplain, Georges Chassaigne, Philippe Bernhard, Laurent Bourgon and Nicolas Outters (France)) The NGC 6188 nebula. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Jean-Claude Canonne, Didier Chaplain, Georges Chassaigne, Philippe Bernhard, Laurent Bourgon and Nicolas Outters (France))

The NGC 6188 nebula comes alive, in this stunning image captured by the Cielaustral Team. Total exposure time for the mosaic image was 253 hours, and it was taken by a camera mounted to a custom-built 20-inch telescope.

The Tumult of the Sun

The Sun, as seen through three different wavelengths. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Hassan Hatami (Iran)) The Sun, as seen through three different wavelengths. (Image: Royal Observatory Greenwich/Hassan Hatami (Iran))

Hassan Hatami chose this image of the Sun from thousands of images in the Solar Dynamics Observatory collection. Adjusting the brightness of the three different wavelengths proved to be a formidable challenge.