Tom Lowe's imageAn American has beaten hundreds of photographers to win the Astronomy Photographer of the Year award.

Tom Lowe?s winning shot depicts a pine tree in the Sierra Nevada, set against the backdrop of the Milky Way. The tree is believed to be over 4,000 years old.

?This beautiful picture perfectly combines the awe-inspiring vista of the night sky with life here on Earth,? said astronomer and competition judge Dr Marek Kukula.

?The bristlecone pines may be old but they are babies compared to the starlight shining behind them – some of which began its journey towards us almost 30,000 years ago.?

Lowe?s image, entitled Blazing Bristlecone, won the Earth and Space category.

Competition judges included Sir Patrick Moore.

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An exhibition of the winning images is on at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich until 27 February 2010.