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.