Mark Gee, "Guiding Light to the Stars," the overall winner of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year (all images courtesy Royal Observatory Greenwich)

Mark Gee, “Guiding Light to the Stars,” the overall winner of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year (all images courtesy Royal Observatory Greenwich and used with permission)

It’s been over 170 years since the first photograph was made of the moon, and now it’s not unusual to capture the universe 12 million light years away. And space photography is only zooming our gaze into the great beyond, where just last year the most distant galaxy in the universe — 13.3 billion light years away — was detected with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, and this year the sharpest image yet was taken of the night sky. Yet the most stunning captures of space dwarfing our little Earth aren’t always created by NASA or astronomy professionals; other photographers also have their lenses trained to the stars.

Last week, an exhibition opened with the top photographs from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 competition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich‘s Astronomy Centre in London, with a book created in partnership with Collins released alongside. Out of the over 1,200 entries from 49 countries submitted for the competition’s fifth year, the winner with the prestigious title of Astronomy Photographer of the Year was Australian photographer Mark Gee. His “Guiding Light to the Stars” (pictured above) contrasts the human-generated gleam of a New Zealand lighthouse with the curving light of the Milky Way. (And if you like that, his website has all sorts of stunning starry views that make humankind seem small.) In addition, the exhibition has stellar examples of the year in space photography through categories like Earth and Space, Deep Space, Our Solar System, People and Space, Robotic Scope, and Young Astrophotographers (a brilliant portemanteau there).

So check out a selection of the year’s best space photographs below, from 14-year-old Jacob Marchio’s striking composition of the moon, to a view of the Aurora Borealis contorted in the sky above Norway, to shots boring into deep space. And if you want even more of the year in space photography, visit the Flickr pool where all the contestant photographs were submitted (don’t miss the shipwreck that appears to be voyaging off into the next dimension). If someone can turn them into some sort of morphing media projection, I’m ready to settle in for some moonage daydreaming.

A Quadruple Lunar Halo © Dani Caxete, Highly Commended - Earth & Space Category

“A Quadruple Lunar Halo” photographed by Dani Caxete of Spain, the halos coming from ice crystals high above the ground refracting the moonlight (Highly Commended – Earth & Space Category)

Green Energy © Fredrik Broms.jpg

“Green Energy” photographed by Fredrik Broms of Norway, capturing the Aurora Borealis (Runner Up – Earth & Space Category)

Snowy Range Perseid Meteor Shower © David Kingham

“Snowy Range Perseid Meteor Shower” photographed by David Kingham of the USA (Highly Commended – Earth & Space Category)

Hi.Hello © Ben Canales Runner up - People and Space Category

“Hi.Hello” photographed by Ben Canales of the USA (Runner up – People and Space Category)

Ring of Fire Sequence © Jia Hao Highly Commended - Our Solar System Category

“Ring of Fire Sequence” by Jia Hao of China, a composite of the “annular eclipse” in May 2013 where a sliver of the Sun remains visible as the Moon passes before it (Highly Commended – Our Solar System Category)

Moon Silhouettes © Mark Gee Winner - People and Space Category

“Moon Silhouettes” by Mark Gee of Australia (Winner – People and Space Category, and yes, same Mark Gee who won the competition overall)

The Waxing Crescent Moon © Jacob Marchio Highly Commended - Young Astronomy Photographer Category

“The Waxing Crescent Moon” by 14-year-old Jacob Marchio of the USA (Highly Commended – Young Astronomy Photographer Category)

Corona Composite of 2012 Australian Totality © Man-To Hui.tif (WINNER) Winner - Our Solar System Category

“Corona Composite of 2012 Australian Totality” by Man-To Hui of China, showing the corona of the sun during a solar eclipse (Winner – Our Solar System Category)

M81–82 and Integrated Flux Nebula © Ivan Eder Highly Commended - Deep Space Category

“M81–82 and Integrated Flux Nebula” by Ivan Eder of Hungary, showing gas being devoured by a supermassive black hole (Highly Commended – Deep Space Category)

Floating Metropolis – NGC 253 © Michael Sidonio (Highly Commended - Deep Space Category)

“Floating Metropolis – NGC 253” photographed by Michael Sidonio of Australia, showing the rare appearance of a starburst galaxy, with many stars being born at once (Highly Commended – Deep Space Category)

Cosmic Alignment Comet Lemmon, GC 47 Tucanae, and the SMC © Ignacio Diaz Bobillo Highly Commended - Our Solar System Category

“Cosmic Alignment Comet Lemmon, GC 47 Tucanae, and the SMC” by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo of Argentina (Highly Commended – Our Solar System Category)

Rho Ophiuchi and Antares Nebulae © Tom O’Donoghue Runner up - Deep Space Category

“Rho Ophiuchi and Antares Nebulae” by Tom O’Donoghue of Ireland (Runner up – Deep Space Category)

The Trapezium Cluster and Surrounding Nebulae © László Francsics Winner - Robotic Scope Category

“The Trapezium Cluster and Surrounding Nebulae” by László Francsics of Hungary (Winner – Robotic Scope Category)

Celestial Impasto Sh2-239 © Adam Block Winner - Deep Space Category

“Celestial Impasto Sh2-239” photographed by Adam Block of the USA (Winner – Deep Space Category)

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 is on view at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Blackheath Ave, Greenwich, Greater London) through February 23, 2014. The Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 book is available from Collins.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...