The diminutive silhouette of a sky-watcher in Iceland last December is set against the grandeur of a double cosmic arch encapsulating the Milky Way and the northern lights. The picturesque Godafoss waterfall and surrounding frozen landscape helps frame the picture, which won first place in the Fourth International Earth and Sky Photo Contest's "Beauty of the Night Sky" category, organizers announced this week.
"This submission is a stitched panorama of four pictures where the Milky Way and the aurora curves extend right into the river and waterfall," said Babak Tafreshi, director of The World at Night (TWAN) and one of the contest founders.
Founded by TWAN and the Dark Skies Awareness project, the annual contest invites photographers to submit their best shots of landscape astrophotography—pictures that showcase both the Earth and the sky—as well as images that capture the battle against light pollution.
Photographers from 45 countries submitted 685 entries to the contest this year and were judged in two categories: "Beauty of the Night Sky" and "Against the Lights."
"The amazing number of eye-catching entries from across the world tells how public attention to night sky is growing," said Tafreshi in a press release this week.
Even with the dazzling lights of Salzburg, Austria, shining in the valley, a blanket of cold fog acts as a light-pollution filter, allowing the stars above the surrounding mountain range to sparkle in this February picture.
And despite the glow of a near full moon, the wintertime constellations of Orion and Taurus and the planet Jupiter burn brightly too.
"The City of Salzburg and its light pollution causes me to travel about an hour for fairly good star shooting conditions, and I always have to handle that in my shots," said photographer Andreas Max Böckle.
This photo won top honors in the "Against the Lights" category, which recognizes images that show "how important and amazing the starry sky is and how it affects our lives and also how bad the problem of light pollution has become," says Tafreshi.
Heaven and Earth meet in this mystical portrait of the Milky Way appearing to pour down into the Indian Ocean off the rocky coast of Réunion Island.
The central bulge of our home galaxy—the downtown core of the Milky Way some 30,000 light-years away from Earth—is partially obscured by dark gas and dust in a spiral arm.
"This night, the swell was particularly strong and I spent a few minutes behind the security fence, but the desire was too intense to find a more striking point of view so I bypassed the barrier and I headed towards the entrance of the Gouffre until I got this magnificent perspective," said photographer Luc Perrot.
Said Tafreshi: "This winning image by Luc Perrot has captured a scene of pure nature with no touch of our modern world, either in the sky or on the land."
A lone tree appears to stand guard next to Canyon Lake, Arizona, under a canopy of stars in this early morning portrait created by Zach Grether.
The dome of artificial light coming from the nearby small town of Globe, Arizona, combined with the bright lights of the Canyon Lake Marina are considered localized light pollution that is dim enough to let most of the starlight be visible. However, the lights emanating from the large city of Phoenix nearly 30 miles away washes out all but the brightest stars.
"The night sky is an essential part of our nature, and humans have been inspired by the starry sky for millennia," says Tafreshi. "But now two-thirds of the population live under light-polluted skies [that are] not dark enough to see the Milky Way."
Like a flying javelin, a bright meteor appears to pierce the ghostly green glows of an aurora while diving down into the frozen waters off Patricia Beach in Manitoba, Canada.
Shannon Bileski was at the right place and the right time to snap this magical photo during a late night geomagnetic storm on March 29. "There were bright bursts of green, which matched the green aurora dancing around us!" she said.
A dazzling green aurora spreads out over the entire overhead sky while the moon lights up a slope of mountain birches in Grøtfjord in northern Norway.
"Starting nightscape photography is fast and easy using off-the-shelf digital SLR cameras," says Tafreshi.
"But for those who aim for serious landscape astrophotos, there are challenges too: going to bizarre locations, planning carefully to be in the right place at the right time, and making the effort to learn some practical astronomy," he says.
In this photo of what looks like a cosmic bridge to the stars, the Milky Way is on grand display behind Roosevelt Lake Bridge in Arizona. Many faint stars invisible to the naked eye are captured in this long-exposure shot, despite the bright orange glow from the old mining town of Globe, Arizona, lighting up a bank of low-hanging clouds.
"The selected images are those most effective in impressing [the] public on both how important and delicate the starry sky is as an affecting part of our nature, and also how bad the problem of light pollution has become," said Tafreshi in a press release.
"Light pollution (excessive light that scatters to the sky instead of illuminating the ground) not only is a major waste of energy, it also obscures the stars, interferes with astronomical observatories and, like any other form of pollution, disrupts ecosystems and has adverse health effects."
Fleeting darkness blankets the Australian outback, as the sun appears blotted out by a total solar eclipse above Pormpuraaw, Queensland, Australia, last November.
"From this stunning location, we were able to observe the moon's umbral shadow cone of this low-altitude eclipse race across the sky, above a quintessential Australian outback locale," says photographer Geoff Sims.
During a solar eclipse, as the moon moves between Earth and the sun, the natural satellite's shadow is cast onto our planet. During the eclipse, only sky-watchers within the moon's hundred-mile-wide (160-kilometers-wide) shadow saw the sun completely "disappear."
This shot captured the judges' attention because it "creates a short, bizarre nightscape, and the phenomenon strongly connects astronomy and nature," says Tafreshi.