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Ye gods! Royal Observatory chooses best space pics

From galaxies to moonrises, the Astronomy Photographer of the Year images offer stunning views of the universe.

Guiding Light to the Stars
Taken in New Zealand, "Guiding Light to the Stars" won in the Earth and Space category of the Royal Observatory's space photo contest.
Mark Gee

If you've ever tried to take photos of the moon, celestial bodies, or even auroras, you know it can be a very tricky job. But trying and failing can give a better appreciation for outstanding space photos such as the winners of the Royal Observatory's annual contest.

The venerable British institution straddling the prime meridian recently announced honorees in its Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013, and the results are spectacular.

From a shot of people silhouetted against the moon to a view of the sun's delicate corona to images of distant stars and nebulae, winning selections were made from more than 1,200 shots taken around the world.

One of the most striking is "Guiding Light to the Stars" by Australia's Mark Gee, winner in the Earth and Space category.

The shot, shown at the top of this story, was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III camera at Cape Palliser on the North Island of New Zealand and features a lighthouse and its powerful beacon to the right side.

The central bulge of light in the image shows the heart of the Milky Way some 26,000 light years away. The two Magellanic Clouds, which are small satellite galaxies, can be seen on the left side of the image.

"I took a wide panorama made up of 20 individual images to get this shot," the observatory quoted Gee as saying. "Stitching the images together was a challenge but the result was worth it!"

Check out some more stunning shots from the contest in the gallery above.