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Photo of the Year: Jaw-Dropping Milky Way Galaxy View

By Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com contributor
October 8, 2013; 11:11 AM ET

An Australian space photographer has won top spot in a global space photography competition, with a spectacular "star-riddled" photo of the Milky Way galaxy, a jaw-dropping image beat out more than 1,200 other entrants in this year's Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest by the U.K.'s Royal Observatory Greenwich and National Maritime Museum.

Mark Gee's photo shows the galaxy stretching across the sky at Cape Palliser, New Zealand - accompanied by a beam from a lighthouse. In fact, his camera gear was at the top of the lighthouse when he decided to take this shot, requiring him to climb 250-plus steps to reach the equipment and bring it back to the location he wanted. You can see Gee's spectacular image and more winning entries in SPACE.com's 2013 Astronomy Photography of the Year gallery, courtesy of the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The central regions of the Milky Way Galaxy, 26,000 light years away, appear as a tangle of dust and stars in the central part of this spectacular image, called 'Earth And Space: Guiding Light to the Star,' by Mark Gee, who won the 2013 Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Credit: Mark Gee | The National Maritime Museum | Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013

"By the time I got back, the sky was beginning to get lighter with sunrise two hours away," Gee wrote in his contest entry on Flickr. "I took a wide pano made up of 20 individual images to get this shot. Stitching it together was a challenge, but the result was worth it!"

"I love the tranquil combination of sea and sky in this beautiful image, along with the comforting human element of the cliff-top lighthouse," stated Marek Kukula, a competition judge as well as the Royal Observatory's public astronomer. "This view from the shores of New Zealand makes me think of the long voyages the Maori's ancestors made into unchartered oceans, guided by the stars. We're in a similar situation today, as we set out to explore the universe."

Pictures of the northern lights (by Norway's Fredrik Broms), a total solar eclipse (China's Man-To Hui) and the transit of Venus (Britain's Sam Cornwell) were among other photos the judges singled out for attention.

The top photos in the contest are on display at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (near London) until February. The winners will also be published in a book commemorating the competition. The space photography contest, now in its fifth year, is run by both the observatory and BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich will display the winning space photos in a free exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London. The exhibition opened on Sept. 19 and runs through Feb. 23, 2014. For more information on the exhibition, visit: http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/exhibition/

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

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