Space

The best space photos of 2021: Sparkling starfields to majestic nebula

The best space photos of 2021:...
A favorite subject of astronomy photographers, the Veil nebula is the remains of a massive star that exploded as a supernova roughly 10,000 years ago. This new Hubble image uses new processing techniques to highlight finer details.
A favorite subject of astronomy photographers, the Veil nebula is the remains of a massive star that exploded as a supernova roughly 10,000 years ago. This new Hubble image uses new processing techniques to highlight finer details.
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A favorite subject of astronomy photographers, the Veil nebula is the remains of a massive star that exploded as a supernova roughly 10,000 years ago. This new Hubble image uses new processing techniques to highlight finer details.
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A favorite subject of astronomy photographers, the Veil nebula is the remains of a massive star that exploded as a supernova roughly 10,000 years ago. This new Hubble image uses new processing techniques to highlight finer details.
Snapped by the SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope, the young, massive star SU Aur is surrounded by a giant planet-forming disc in a shape that almost resembles a bird in flight
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Snapped by the SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope, the young, massive star SU Aur is surrounded by a giant planet-forming disc in a shape that almost resembles a bird in flight
The Parker Solar Probe snapped this image of Venus during its third flyby of the planet, on its way to its eventual close orbit of the Sun. The dark smudge on the surface is the highland region of Aphrodite Terra. The streaks are left by particles whizzing through space.
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The Parker Solar Probe snapped this image of Venus during its third flyby of the planet, on its way to its eventual close orbit of the Sun. The dark smudge on the surface is the highland region of Aphrodite Terra. The streaks are left by particles whizzing through space.
This mesmerizing starfield is the globular cluster Palomar 6, located near the center of the Milky Way
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This mesmerizing starfield is the globular cluster Palomar 6, located near the center of the Milky Way
The Milky Ring by Zhong Wu won the Galaxies category of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image was stitched together from 1,000 shots of the Milky Way taken from China and New Zealand.
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The Milky Ring by Zhong Wu won the Galaxies category of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image was stitched together from 1,000 shots of the Milky Way taken from China and New Zealand.
NASA’s Perseverance rover touches down on Mars on February 18, 2021, in this shot captured by a camera mounted on the landing equipment.
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NASA’s Perseverance rover touches down on Mars on February 18, 2021, in this shot captured by a camera mounted on the landing equipment.
The Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. This Hubble image shows a dazzling star cluster called NGC 346 at its center, surrounded by a dark cloud of dust and gas being swept away by outflows of radiation from the energetic new stars.
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The Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. This Hubble image shows a dazzling star cluster called NGC 346 at its center, surrounded by a dark cloud of dust and gas being swept away by outflows of radiation from the energetic new stars.
A dazzling disc, some 5,000 light-years wide, lurks at the center of the galaxy NGC 1097, as snapped by the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope. The bright light in the middle is a supermassive black hole, which is pulling in dust and gas visible as spiraling dark clouds. The pink/purple ring itself is made up of accelerated star formation, as a result of the intense energy thrown out as the black hole chows down on material.ESO/TIMER survey
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A dazzling disc, some 5,000 light-years wide, lurks at the center of the galaxy NGC 1097, as snapped by the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope. The bright light in the middle is a supermassive black hole, which is pulling in dust and gas visible as spiraling dark clouds. The pink/purple ring itself is made up of accelerated star formation, as a result of the intense energy thrown out as the black hole chows down on material.ESO/TIMER survey
A new vision of Jupiter, as seen by Juno. Clearly visible is the Great Red Spot, an Earth-sized storm that’s been raging for centuries, as well as beautiful bands of clouds swirling through the south temperate belt.
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A new vision of Jupiter, as seen by Juno. Clearly visible is the Great Red Spot, an Earth-sized storm that’s been raging for centuries, as well as beautiful bands of clouds swirling through the south temperate belt.
This stunning shot of the Cat’s Paw Nebula was the first light image taken by the CONCERTO instrument, installed this year on the APEX telescope in Chile.
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This stunning shot of the Cat’s Paw Nebula was the first light image taken by the CONCERTO instrument, installed this year on the APEX telescope in Chile.
This photo, taken from the International Space Station on November 8, shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour as it departs the station to ferry four astronauts back to Earth.
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This photo, taken from the International Space Station on November 8, shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour as it departs the station to ferry four astronauts back to Earth.
California Dreamin’ by Terry Hancock was shortlisted in the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image captures NGC 1499, also known as the California Nebula, in a range of broadband and narrowband filters to apply a new sense of color.
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California Dreamin’ by Terry Hancock was shortlisted in the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image captures NGC 1499, also known as the California Nebula, in a range of broadband and narrowband filters to apply a new sense of color.
A Hubble image of the galaxy cluster ACO S 295, showcasing galaxies of all shapes and sizes with a stunning sense of scale. Shapely spiral galaxies can be seen in a range of orientations, from almost head-on like the clear one in the center, to those seen side-on as a thin sliver of light. Others appear as fuzzy balls of light, known as elliptical galaxies.
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A Hubble image of the galaxy cluster ACO S 295, showcasing galaxies of all shapes and sizes with a stunning sense of scale. Shapely spiral galaxies can be seen in a range of orientations, from almost head-on like the clear one in the center, to those seen side-on as a thin sliver of light. Others appear as fuzzy balls of light, known as elliptical galaxies.
A new look at the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. In 2019, the team snapped the first-ever direct image of a black hole, and this new image reveals the polarization of the light of the glowing disc around it. The direction of the lines visible in the disc show the orientation of the magnetic field.
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A new look at the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. In 2019, the team snapped the first-ever direct image of a black hole, and this new image reveals the polarization of the light of the glowing disc around it. The direction of the lines visible in the disc show the orientation of the magnetic field.
A composite image of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, taken by Chandra, NuSTAR and Hubble observatories. Each color represents a different element – orange is iron, purple is oxygen, green is the silicon/magnesium ratio, and blue is titanium.
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A composite image of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, taken by Chandra, NuSTAR and Hubble observatories. Each color represents a different element – orange is iron, purple is oxygen, green is the silicon/magnesium ratio, and blue is titanium.
A Hubble image of Arp 86, a pair of interacting galaxies around 220 million light-years from Earth. The larger galaxy, called NGC 7753, will eventually either consume or eject the smaller galaxy, NGC 7752.
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A Hubble image of Arp 86, a pair of interacting galaxies around 220 million light-years from Earth. The larger galaxy, called NGC 7753, will eventually either consume or eject the smaller galaxy, NGC 7752.
The Lagoon Nebula is a star-forming cloud of dust and gas about 4,000 light-years from Earth. This image combines optical data (blue and white) from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center, as well as X-ray data (pink) from Chandra, highlighting baby stars normally obscured behind the veil.
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The Lagoon Nebula is a star-forming cloud of dust and gas about 4,000 light-years from Earth. This image combines optical data (blue and white) from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center, as well as X-ray data (pink) from Chandra, highlighting baby stars normally obscured behind the veil.
The carbon star CW Leonis is in its death throes, shaking off its outer layers to produce an eerie orange-red glow.
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The carbon star CW Leonis is in its death throes, shaking off its outer layers to produce an eerie orange-red glow.
A stunning shot of NGC 4254, a spiral galaxy located about 45 million light-years away. Taken with the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope, the image combines different wavelengths of light over multiple observations - gold colors indicate newborn stars, while blue areas are slightly older stars.
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A stunning shot of NGC 4254, a spiral galaxy located about 45 million light-years away. Taken with the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope, the image combines different wavelengths of light over multiple observations - gold colors indicate newborn stars, while blue areas are slightly older stars.
A stellar nursery called AFGL 5180, located in the constellation of Gemini. This image is a combination of visible and infrared light, allowing normally hidden stars to come to light.
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A stellar nursery called AFGL 5180, located in the constellation of Gemini. This image is a combination of visible and infrared light, allowing normally hidden stars to come to light.
View gallery - 20 images

The endless expanse of space is a beautiful and fascinating subject for photography. From the dramatic births and deaths of stars, to galactic glamor shots and planetary close-ups, here are some of the most breathtaking space photos of 2021.

Stars are born in stellar nurseries – clouds of dust and gas that collapse under their gravitational pull and ignite – and this dynamic process is a favorite subject of telescopes like Hubble, for their contrast of bright young stars and dark clouds. In the prime of their lives, stars can gather in clusters, and these sparkling starfields also make for stunning shots. And finally, millions of years later, star deaths are just as photogenic, producing sublime nebulae that allow us to project our imaginations onto their ambiguous shapes. Zooming out, galaxies cluster together as well, bending the mind with their immense scale.

Other images have more historic impact. This year, astronomers released a new view of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87, complete with measurements of its polarization, revealing the twists and turns of its magnetic field. In February, NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars, with a jetpack-mounted camera capturing the moment the wheels hit the red soil.

The Milky Ring by Zhong Wu won the Galaxies category of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image was stitched together from 1,000 shots of the Milky Way taken from China and New Zealand.
The Milky Ring by Zhong Wu won the Galaxies category of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. The image was stitched together from 1,000 shots of the Milky Way taken from China and New Zealand.

And of course, some of the best shots come courtesy of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Chinese photographer Zhong Wu won the Galaxies category with an image called The Milky Ring, stitched together from 1,000 shots of the Milky Way taken from China and New Zealand – meaning it was captured from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Come and explore the cosmos with us in our gallery.

View gallery - 20 images
2 comments
2 comments
The deerhunter
That's 10000 years ago in our time. I wonder how many light years away that nebula is from us and so therefore I wonder how long ago it really happened? Just at the presumed dawn of our civilization or before h. sapiens even existed?
bwana4swahili
Lovely suite of images!