From Saturn's hexagonal storm to the penguin-shaped nebula: MailOnline showcases the most stunning space images of 2013
- 2013 was the year of the Twitpic with ISS astronauts sharing hundreds of incredible images of Earth from space
- Amateurs gave space agencies a run for their money with close-up images of the sun taken from their back garden
- Meanwhile, billion pound telescopes explored the darker reaches of our galaxy revealing some unexpected shapes
From Mars' 'Grand Canyon' to a penguin-shaped nebula, this year's breath-taking space photography has taken us on an incredible journey through the mysterious depths of our galaxy.
But it wasn't just cutting-edge space telescopes that provided stunning images - amateur photographers and astronauts have also helped reveal previously unseen views of our universe.
Leading the way was former commander of the International Space Station (ISS) Chris Hadfield who, throughout the year, shared intimate details of his life in space with his army of Twitter followers.
This captivating image of the Orion nebula reveals an area of our galaxy as a bustling neighbourhood of recently formed stars, hot gas and dark dust. The nebula is visible to the unaided eye as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion
One of his most impressive photos was an shot of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge taken from his lofty perch on the ISS 200 miles above Earth.
As well as San Francisco's landmark, Hadfield - who has described the shifting view of the earth from windows of the space station as 'a perpetual magnet' - snapped the bright lights of Manhattan at night, the 'endless' golden beaches of Australia and 'cauliflower' clouds sitting over the Amazon.
In an exclusive interview with the MailOnline earlier this month, the Canadian astronaut revealed that he took over 40,000 photos during his five month stint on the spaceship, with unseen photography expected to be released by Nasa next year.
Up until this year, images taken of Saturn's hexagonal storm have been in infrared wavelengths, showing false-colour shades of red, orange and green. In October, Cassini, which has been orbiting the planet for over nine years, captured the northern hexagon in its true, incredible colours
Mark Gee's image of the Milky Way came first in the Earth and Space Category in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards. The shot shows central regions of the Milky Way Galaxy - over 26,000 light years away - appearing as a tangle of dust and stars, lit up by a lighthouse on the Cape Palliser, New Zealand, shining out to sea
The sun may be 93 million miles away from Earth, but that didn't stopped amateur astronomer Ralph Smith capturing these stunning close-ups from his garden earlier this year. Shown here is a close up of the sun showing a solar prominence on its surface
The Golden Gate Bridge is visible from space in this incredible shot of San Francisco Bay taken by astronaut Chris Hadfield. In an exclusive interview with the MailOnline, the Canadian astronaut revealed that he took over 40,000 photos during his five month stint on the ISS
While this picture was taken in 2012, it went viral this year as the greatest selfie of all time. Aki Hoshide took the image at the International Space Station
Another mesmerising photo from the ISS revealed a mass of storm clouds churning over the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil and the Equator.
It was taken by one of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station. A Russian spacecraft, docked to the orbiting outpost, partially covers a small patch of sunlight on the ocean waters in a break in the clouds.
It wasn't just astronauts providing these stunning images from their enviable position on the ISS.
Earlier this year, Ralph Smith from Deeral in Queensland, Australia stunned the world with his incredible pictures of the sun taken from his back garden.
The stunning results show huge bursts of flames - known as prominences - leaping from the sun's surface. Mr Smith said he captured the images using a small USB monochrome camera attached to a telescope, with H-Alpha filters.
Further from home, a captivating image of the Orion nebula revealed an area of our galaxy as a bustling neighbourhood of recently formed stars, hot gas and dark dust.
This image from the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory shows the cloud associated with the Rosette Nebula, a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Monoceros, or Unicorn, constellation
Black-sand dunes on the floor of Mars' crater have been formed from cooled lava rock. This is one of the first sand dune fields ever recognised on Mars. In winter, these dunes are covered by frost and CO2 ice
Ivan Eder, from Hungary, took this wonderful shot of M81 and M82 galaxies - twelve million light years from Earth. Most of the emission at infrared wavelengths originates from interstellar dust. This dust is found primarily within the galaxy's spiral arms
This image of Mars' 'Grand Canyon', taken by ESA's Mars Express, captured the imagination of space enthusiasts in 2013. The deep valley, named Hebes Chasma, is a strange 315 km scar that sits almost right in the middle of the Martian equator on the northern edge of the Valles Marineris canyon
This image was taken from the International Space Station 200 miles above Earth. It reveals a mass of storm clouds churning over the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil and the Equator. A Russian spacecraft, docked to the orbiting outpost, partially covers a small patch of sunlight on the ocean waters in a break in the clouds
The nebula is visible to the unaided eye as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. In the image, captured by Robert Hurt, the eerie green glow shows starlight reflected by the dust filaments that cover much for region.
The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.
This year, another nebula that looked similar to a penguin became the latest addition to the growing menagerie of animal-shaped forms which astronomers claim to have found identifies in distant skies.
A striking image of two galaxies colliding, taken with the Nasa Hubble Space Telescope, revealed what looked like the profile of a celestial bird, hovering protectively over an egg.
Both are fully certified galaxies which can be found in the constellation Hydra, 326 million light years away.
The sun fired off its strongest solar flare of the year this week causing a wide-area blackout of high frequency signal. Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an X3.3-class solar flare that peaked at 5:12 pm EST (10:12 pm GMT) on Tuesday. The long streak of light is likely due to solar protons saturating the imager
Since 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been charting the red planet's terrain. This image shows defrosting of the crests of 'Inca City'. This is the informal name given to a set of intersecting ridges that are located among the layered materials of the south polar region of Mars. Their origin has never been understood
A striking image of two galaxies colliding, taken with the Nasa Hubble Space Telescope, revealed what looked like the profile of a celestial bird, hovering protectively over an egg. Both are fully certified galaxies which can be found in the constellation Hydra, 326 million light years away
Of all the space images this year, those of Mars were rarely out of the news with Nasa's Curiosity rover providing exciting research on the red planet's watery past.
But it was the image of Mars' 'Grand Canyon', taken by ESA's Mars Express, that really captured the imagination of space enthusiasts.
The deep valley, named Hebes Chasma, is a strange 196-mile (315km) scar that sits almost right in the middle of the Martian equator on the northern edge of the Valles Marineris canyon.
ESA's Mars Express has flown over this region of Mars on numerous occasions, but this year's eight-image mosaic revealed Hebes Chasma in full and in greater detail than ever before.
A German photographer, Michael Najjar, has created this image to show just how serious a problem space debris has become. Based on a data archive, each miniature sphere in the image represents an existing object orbiting in space. Overall, it is estimated that there are as many as 370,000 pieces of space junk floating in Earth's orbit, travelling at speeds of up to 22,000 mph
This image shows the great salt desert in Iran. Central in the desert lies the Kavir Buzurg (or Great Marsh), and in the west, a vast salt lake called Darya-ye Namak contains large salt plates in a mosaic-like shape
In the early hours of Nov. 27, 2013, Comet ISON entered the field of view of the European Space Agency/Nasa Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. In this picture, called a coronagraph, the bright light of the sun itself is blocked so the structures around it are visible. The comet is seen in the lower right
Not to be outdone by the red planet, Saturn revealed its mysterious six-sided storm to Nasa's Casini spacecraft.
Up until this year, images taken of it have been in infrared wavelengths, showing false-colour shades of red, orange and green.
In October, Cassini, which has been orbiting the planet for over nine years, captured the northern hexagon in its true, incredible colours.
The hexagon is nearly 15,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) across — big enough for nearly four Earths to fit inside.
Back on Earth, an incredible image revealed a rare moment of calm on our planet with clear skies above three oceans.
The picture takes in 404,880 miles across Saturn and its inner ring system, including its rings out of the E ring, which is the planet's outer-most ring
The professional mosaic forms part of Cassini¿s ¿Wave at Saturn¿ campaign, which on July 19, encouraged people to find Saturn in their part of the sky and wave at it, sharing pictures over the internet. This fun collage includes about 1,600 images submitted by members of the public as part of the campaign
The image, taken on September 8, shows no hurricanes, cyclones, or tropical storms in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Ocean basin. A total of 14 polar satellite images, also known as swaths, were taken at midday and stitched together to create the stunning view
The image, taken on September 8, showed no hurricanes, cyclones, or tropical storms in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Ocean basin.
A total of 14 polar satellite images, also known as swaths, were stitched together to create the stunning view.
There was plenty of cloud cover, however, and smaller storm systems in view. In the eastern Pacific, remnants of tropical storm Lorena were breaking up near the Baja Peninsula.
In the eastern Atlantic, the pieces of a tropical depression were seen starting to gather near the islands of Cape Verde.
Clear skies such as this provided some spectacular views of what astronomers dubbed 'the comet of the century'.
Discernible at times with ordinary binoculars and occasionally even just the naked eye, ISON dazzled observers before it met its untimely death last month.
Social media, citizen science projects and ground-breaking telescopes, have this year helped reawaken interest into the beauty of our galaxy.
If you ever needed confirmation of how tiny we are in the vast and beautiful expanse of space, then this year's space image could serve as a sobering reminder.
This image from Hubble shows the Red Rectangle Nebula. At the nebula's centre is an binary star system that powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its unusual colours. The shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes
'This morning, over Africa, my breath was taken away', tweeted Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield when he shared this photo on Twitter. Hadfield claims he never got tired of looking at Earth while on the ISS
Appearing like a column of smoke rising from the horizon, a dark lane of dust marks the plane of the Milky Way in this photograph. This dust plays a vital role in the life story of our galaxy. Formed from the ashes of dead and dying stars, the dust clouds are also the regions in which new stars will form