These will make you starry-eyed! Photographers look to the night sky for dazzling astronomical displays
By Anna Edwards
The rich colours, dusting of stars, smattering of bright lights and ethereal patterns look almost like they are a work of fiction.
But the beautiful images are just photographs of the night sky.
Huge eruptions shooting from the Sun's surface, the dazzling green and red lights of the aurora borealis, and spectacular clouds of colourful dust in which new stars are forming thousands of light years away; these are just some of the awe-inspiring sights captured by photographers.
The dazzling displays were photographed for the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition - and the entries show just how spectacular the sky is.
In the centre of the Orion Nebula newly-formed stars blast their surroundings with radiation, carving out a cavity in the dust and causing the hydrogen gas to glow pink
The dazzling Aurora Borealis over Hgtuva Mountain in Norway is captured with its shimmering neon lights
The Milky Way stretches across the sky above the manmade pockets of hazy lights from the towns and villages below near Uludag National Park in Turkey
The competition, which is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with Sky at Night Magazine, is now in its fourth year and continues to go from strength to strength, once again receiving a record number of spectacular entries from enthusiastic amateurs and professional photographers from around the globe.
Shortlisted entries include a breath-taking view of stars over snow-covered Japanese mountains; the full Moon setting behind a historic abbey on Mount Pirchiriano in Italy; a meteor streaking through the sky above a rock formation in Utah, USA; and a group of friends stargazing at a caravan site in the Gower Peninsular, South Wales.
The diversity of locations is not just limited to Earth.
Photographers have also captured sights from across our Solar System, galaxy and beyond; from detailed mosaics of our Moon's surface, to shimmering dust columns in distant nebulae, and out beyond the Milky Way to the swirling Andromeda Galaxy.
A chance moment meant a photographer caught the image of a jet and its twin vapour trails flying past the disc of the Sun
This picture shows the column of dust known as the Elephant's Trunk in the constellation of Cepheus