For generations, skywatchers and hobbyists around the world have admired the beauty of the cosmos.

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest channels that wonder into dazzling images, taken by amateur and professional astrophotographers as they vie for a £10,000 ($12,750) grand prize. The contest, arguably the biggest astrophotography competition in the world, is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in England and is in its 16th year.

This time around, photographers from 58 different countries submitted more than 3,500 awe-inspiring entries, in categories featuring our sun and moon, planets and comets, skyscapes, galaxies, stars and nebulas and other extraterrestrial sights. The 2024 Astronomy Photographer of the Year shortlist, unveiled on Tuesday, includes an aurora shaped like a dragon, a total solar eclipse and a breathtaking shot of the Milky Way in a desert sky.

A panel of art and astronomy experts judges the contest. The overall winners will be announced on September 12. Along with the cash prize, winning images will be displayed in an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London, which will go on view September 14.

Below is a selection of ten shortlisted photos that have stood out to the judges so far in this year’s competition.

A Night With the Valkyries by Jose Miguel Picon Chimelis

A red, green and yellow-shining aurora lines the sky over a panorama view of a mountain
A view of an aurora above Eystrahorn Mountain in Iceland during a strong KP7 geomagnetic storm. © Jose Miguel Picon Chimelis

In a phenomenon known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), the sun’s outer atmosphere launches magnetic fields and plasma mass into space. Sometimes, these charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field, producing intense auroras near the poles, visible from the ground. Geophysicists who study magnetic disturbances have created a nine-point scale that indicates how intense a disturbance is. This photo comes after a KP7-ranked storm, which is powerful enough to cause auroras and upset power systems.

“That night, I think, was one of the most amazing that I have experienced in my nighttime photography outings,” photographer Jose Miguel Picon Chimelis tells Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) in a statement. “There was a prediction of a KP7 storm, and I was excited as to what I might see. What I couldn’t have imagined was seeing these colors in the sky; it was a spectacle that was difficult to describe.”

Gigantic Solar Prominence in Motion by Miguel Claro

A close-up image of part of the sun. In the top left, a geyser-like stream of material rises from the surface.
A gigantic prominence rises from the sun in this image captured from Évora, Portugal. © Miguel Claro

A solar prominence—a large, bright structure extending outward from the sun’s surface—looks like a geyser in this close-up image demonstrating activity in the lower region of the sun’s atmosphere, known as chromospheric activity.

“This giant stretches around the sun’s limb for thousands of kilometers and is several times larger than Earth,” photographer Miguel Claro notes to RMG. “As comparison, its width is larger than the width of the rings of Saturn.”

This capture is a still from a time-lapse of 248 images. Claro put these together into a 4k high-resolution solar movie comprising 1 hour and 20 minutes of spectacular photos. The image above is a selection from that movie.

Abandoned House by Stefan Liebermann

The Milky Way seen from Earth with an abandoned desert house and bare tree in the foreground
An abandoned house in the Namib Desert with the Milky Way rising above it. © Stefan Liebermann

Above an abandoned house and lone tree, the Milky Way lights up the sky during a Namib Desert night. The Namib Desert is one of the world’s best spots for stargazing, as it is sparsely populated and largely protected from light pollution, making it extremely dark.

Stefan Leibermann, who captured this image in Garub, Namibia, described to RMG the experience of getting the shot: “In the middle of the Namib Desert, you can find an abandoned house, and right above it, the Milky Way rises. I put some lights in the house, set up my star tracker and seized the opportunity. Through a veil of clouds, halos around the stars created a dream-like effect.”

Arctic Dragon by Carina Letelier Baeza

An aurora takes the figure of a dragon with rock formations creating five pointed arches in the foreground.
At the Arctic Henge in Iceland, a green aurora appears to take the form of a dragon. © Carina Letelier Baeza

Carina Letelier Baeza imaged this uniquely shaped aurora, which shined with intense red and green coloring throughout the night. The photographer tells RMG the lights look like “a big dragon over rock pyramids.”

Letelier Baeza snapped the photo at the Arctic Henge, located in one of Iceland’s most remote and northernmost villages. Designed like a huge sundial, the Arctic Henge casts shadows in precise locations between its arched gateways.

Capturing this image also took some luck with the weather. This site “was the only place in Iceland with clear skies that night.”

The Blue Details of M45: The Pleiades by Sándor Biliczki

Messier 45, an open star cluster, radiates blue light in the center left of the photo
Messier 45, also known as the Pleiades, shines bright with blue light. © Sándor Biliczki

The Pleiades (also known as Messier 45 or the Seven Sisters) is an open star cluster that can be seen with the naked eye. Open clusters consist of similarly aged stars numbering from the tens to a few thousand, formed from the same molecular cloud. Mutual gravitational attraction holds the stars together.

At 444 light-years away, the Pleiades is one of the closest star clusters to Earth. The cluster, dominated by hot, blue, luminous stars formed over the last 100 million years, has only a few stars that can be seen without the aid of a telescope—though in total, it contains roughly 1,000.

Sándor Biliczki, who is newer to astrophotography, traveled to Spain to capture this image, to look for lower light pollution and better atmospheric conditions. “The Pleiades is very popular among astrophotographers, but there are so many tiny details to be discovered in it that, for me, it was a tremendous experience to process,” Biliczki tells RMG.

International Space Station Daytime Moon Transit by Kelvin Hennessy

The International Space Station captured in different frames forms a dotted diagonal line from the bottom left to upper right of the image, with the moon in the background
The International Space Station (ISS) traverses across the sky in front of a 51 percent illuminated moon. © Kelvin Hennessy

The picture above depicts the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the Earth in the foreground, while the backdrop displays a 51 percent illuminated moon. The ISS is the largest space station ever built, maintaining an orbit with an average altitude of 250 miles. The ISS circles the Earth in roughly 90 minutes.

Kelvin Hennessy captured this photo from Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, with the help of various apps to confirm the station’s transit path across the moon.

“Finding a suitable shooting location in a city was the most difficult part of the shoot,” the photographer tells RMG. “I used Google Earth and Google Street View to look for a suitable candidate with clear skies and parking along the very narrow transit corridor.”

Misty Mountains by Bence Toth

Waves of brown, orange and green cosmic dust illuminated while bright stars fill the background
IC 5070, also known as the Pelican Nebula, is shot and colored using the same method that colorizes Hubble Space Telescope images. © Bence Toth

Located in the swan constellation Cygnus, the Pelican Nebula is a star-forming region roughly 30 light-years across, and its hydrogen gas actively emits light.

To capture this shot, Bence Toth “used narrowband filters for image acquisition and created a color image with the Hubble Palette method.” The Hubble Palette method is a recognizable coloring system for images, made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope, and it can often help viewers see more detail throughout space images.

“The fine dust and gas structures really reminded me of mist on mountains hit by the rising sun,” Toth tells RMG.

SNR G156.2+5.7, a Faint Supernova Remnant in Auriga by Bray Falls

A faint supernova appears as a red bubble, seemingly translucent with a few shining regions in blue. Stars and galaxies shine in the background.
A shot of SNR G156.2+5.7, a faint supernova remnant in the constellation Auriga. © Bray Falls

To astronomers, SNR stands for supernova remnant, which describes a lingering structure resulting from the explosion of a star. A supernova remnant consists of ejected materials and shock waves from the blast.

This object, called SNR G156.2+5.7, lies in the constellation Auriga, behind dark molecular clouds. “This means we have to look at this supernova remnant through the dust clouds in deep space,” photographer Bray Falls tells RMG. ”Luckily, there are enough breaks in the clouds to see an incredible structure.”

The Galaxy Devourer by ShaRA (Shared Remote Astrophotography) Team

A brownish-red cloud of gas and dust shines in the bottom right of the image and resembles the shape of a worm with its mouth agape. The ESO 257-19 galaxy lies like a flat disk in the top left of the picture.
CG 4, a star-forming region in the Puppis constellation, resembles a worm or hand reaching toward the ESO 257-19 Galaxy. © ShaRa group: M. Botti, V. Chander, M. Di Fusco, A. Erkaslan, M. Firenzuoli, V. Fiore, V. Fermo, A. Grizzuti, A. Lorio, V. Liberti, R. Ligustri, D. Lioce, A. Loro, G. Michieletto, G. Pazienza, C. Privitera, A. Ravagnin, F. Tiano, C. Trabuio, E. Vergani

“Is this the cosmic sandworm of Arrakis from Dune or the terrifying Graboid from the film Tremors?” Alessandro Ravagnin, one of the collaborators who captured this shot, says to RMG.

This image shows CG 4, a star-forming region in the southern Puppis constellation about 1,300 light-years from Earth. In it, dense molecular clouds can collapse to form stars. The galaxy in the top left corner is a spiral galaxy seen nearly edge-on. While it may look close, is actually 118 million light-years away.

A group of astrophotographers—called the Shared Remote Astrophotography (ShaRA) team—together rented a telescope and took several images from El Sauce Observatory, Río Hurtado, Chile. They voted on the best ones, then merged them into this image.

Total Solar Eclipse by Gwenaël Blanck

A total solar eclipse collage showing the Sun’s corona, which appears white along with a pink chromosphere.
A total solar eclipse captured in Australia. The image showcases the sun’s corona, its pink chromosphere and Baily’s beads. © Gwenaël Blanck

As many might remember, a total solar eclipse inspired fanfare and viewing parties across North America earlier this year. However, total solar eclipses, which happen when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth, blocking the face of the sun completely, occur somewhere on our planet about every 18 months.

This shot was taken in Exmouth, Western Australia, which experienced 62 seconds of totality during a hybrid solar eclipse in April 2023. The image showcases the sun’s corona, its pink chromosphere and Baily’s beads, which are narrow openings of sunlight that shine through due to the moon’s rugged landscape.

“With this collage, I wanted to show the beauty of the corona,” photographer Gwenaël Blanck tells RMG. “I superimposed seven pictures for the background and six others for the chromosphere and prominences.”

“A total solar eclipse is one of the most beautiful spectacles nature can offer. Everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetime,” Blanck adds. “[Totality] seems short, but it was worth every penny and effort to get there. Pictures don’t do justice to this wonder.”

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