Early one June morning last year, British photographer James Rushforth captured something incredible: the comet NEOWISE streaking through the night sky above Stonehenge, itself lit up by the lights of a passing car.
To call this a once-in-a-lifetime shot would be underselling it. The last time NEOWISE passed by earth 6,800 years ago, Stonehenge didn’t yet exist.
Understandably, the image earned Rushforth a place on the shortlist for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, an annual event hosted by Royal Observatory Greenwich that showcases the best images of the cosmos taken from earth.
Like Rushforth’s entry, many of the nominated photographs evince a level of sublime grandeur that makes the dreamy landscapes of your Macbook desktop look like a cheap postcard.
This year’s competition, the 13th since the series began, drew more than 4,500 entries from 75 countries. Winners in 12 categories—including “Aurorae,” “Stars and Nebulae,” and “People and Space”—will be announced September 16. One overall winner will pocket a £10,000 cash prize.
Two days after that—on September 18—an exhibition of the winning works will go on view at the National Maritime Museum. (A book that will feature the winners is available for pre-order now.)
Other highlights from this year’s shortlist include a neon-green look at the aurora borealis seen from a cave in Iceland; the International Space Station, glimpsed as it passed through a crescent moon; and shots of the Milky Way peering through the night sky, taken above a mountain in Iran, a rocky coast in England, and a lavender field in France.
Last year’s overall winner was an expansive, tilt-shift shot of the Andromeda Galaxy by French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux.
Below, see some of the photographs shortlisted for this year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.