Mike Rector

Every week, a dedicated group of astronomers around the globe gather online to share their passion for the night sky. The Virtual Star Party connects the community's telescopes LIVE via a Google+ Hangout and experts are on hand to describe the celestial objects targeted. The best thing is that anyone can join in, whether you have a telescope or not -- you just need a passion for the Cosmos.

During the live broadcasts, amateur astronomers often share photographs of what they can see through their telescope viewfinders. So, in May, the Virtual Star Party held an astrophotography contest. In the words of Scott Lewis, astronomer, astronomy educator and coordinator of the Virtual Star Party, "the response was nothing short of breathtaking."

Of the 120 entries, eight were selected as the first batch of winners. Their astronomy photos, which were captured using a range of techniques and equipment, have been turned into wallpapers for free download. All the photos in this gallery can be seen in their high-resolution glory at Lewis' website "Know the Cosmos."

In the image above, Mike Rector captured the famous M45 “The Pleiades” — Mike used a Celestron Omni XLT 150 with a Modified Canon 350D to capture Messier’s 45th object.

Cory Schmitz

Cory Schmitz: M104 “The Sombrero Galaxy” — Cory captured this iconic galaxy with his Canon 550D connected to a 10″ Dobsonian

Kevin Franklin

Kevin Franklin: Solar Eclipse — Kevin was able to catch the moment of totality using Nikon D5000 with a AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm lens.

Russell Bateman

Russell Bateman: Luna “Waning Crescent” — This remarkable image of the waning crescent moon was shot with Russell’s Orion SS4 camera through a 114mm Refracting telescope.

Paul Stewart

Paul Stewart: C/2012 F6 “Comet Lemmon” — Paul,from New Zealand, captured Comet Lemmon with his 80mm refracting telescope with QSI 583 Scientific CCD Camera.

Steven Coates

Steven Coates: IC1848 “Soul Nebula” — Steven also used a QSI Scientific cooled CCD Camera attached to an 80mm refracting telescope to capture the Soul Nebula.

Jason H., Michael Phillips and Mitchell Duke

Multiple Astronomers: Jupiter — Jason H., Michael Phillips and Mitchell Duke all submitted fantastic images of our largest planet, compiled into a single frame here.

Russ Vallelunga

Russ Vallelunga: C/2011 L4 “Comet PANSTARRS” — This gorgeous skyline shows the sliver of a waning crescent moon hanging in the sky with Comet PANSTARRS seemingly chasing it down the horizon. Russ used a Canon T2i to snag this beautiful scene.