Photos: The World at Night 2011

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  1. Alps at Night

    The Second International Earth and Sky Photo Contest celebrates images that combine the beauties of the night sky with a notable location or landmark on Earth. This picture by Thomas Kurat, titled "Alps at Night," won first prize in the "Against the Lights" category. It shows the starry sky above a misty Alpine valley and the lights of an Austrian village. The 2011 contest was organized by The World at Night and Global Astronomy Month. (Thomas Kurat / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A Starry Night of Iceland

    The first prize in the "Beauty of the Night Sky" category goes to Stephane Vetter for this photo, which displays the northern lights and the Milky Way above the Arctic landscape of Iceland. (Stephane Vetter / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Isfahan Milky Way

    The second-place winner in the "Against the Lights" category is Mehdi Momenzadeh from Iran, for his panoramic view of the Milky Way above the bright lights of Isfahan. The contest's "Against the Lights" category draws attention to the challenges posed by light pollution. (Mehdi Momenzadeh / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Galactic View from Planet Earth

    Photographer Alex Cherney won second place in the "Beauty of the Night Sky" category for this view of the Milky Way's central bulge, as seen in the skies over Australia. (Alex Cherney / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lisbon Sky Lights

    Third place in the "Against the Lights" went to this photograph by Portugal's Miguel Claro. The long-exposure image shows the slanting trails of stars and the crescent moon passing over a landmark bridge in Lisbon. The horizontal streaks are created by airplanes flying through the city's light-polluted skies. (Miguel Claro / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Beauty of Southern Sky

    Luc Perrot won third place in the "Beauty of Night Sky" category for this picture, showing the band of the Milky Way above Piton de la Fournaise ("Peak of the Furnace"); an active volcano on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. In the background sky, you can make out the Southern Cross at upper right and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds at lower right. (Luc Perrot / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Venus Above Reunion Island

    The dazzling light of planet Venus is captured in this panoramic mountain view from Reunion Island's national park. Mars shines below and to the right of Venus. The bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri are at top left. The colorful glows in the fog are due to light pollution from small villages hidden in the valley. This image by Luc Perrot won fourth place in the "Against the Lights" category. (Luc Perrot / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The Great Wall at Night

    Fourth place in the "Beauty of Night Sky" goes to this picture, taken by China's Xiaohua. The Milky Way is spread out above one of the gates to the Great Wall of China. (Xiaohua / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lights from the Hidden City

    The clouds above an Oregon mountain landscape glow with the reflected light from Portland, 50 miles away. This photograph, by Ben Canales, won fifth place in the "Against the Lights" category. (Ben Canales / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Startrails Above an Alien Lake

    Star trails whirl around the north celestial pole in the skies above Mono Lake in California. This photo, by Grant Kaye, won fifth place in the "Beauty of the Night Sky" category. For more information about the Earth and Sky Photo Contest, visit the website for The World at Night. (Grant Kaye / Courtesy of TWAN) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Thomas Kurat / Courtesy of TWAN
    Above: Slideshow (10) The World at Night 2011
  2. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014
By
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 5/19/2011 10:23:54 PM ET 2011-05-20T02:23:54

Despite our millennia-long obsession with stargazing — it's recorded in everything from our ancient monuments to primitive art to modern-day TV shows — many humans today will never witness the magnificent scale of the stars' and planets' nightly light show, scientists say.

Light pollution, the scourge of stargazers everywhere, is increasingly blotting out the celestial dazzle once available to all.

Wish you could get the views your great-great-grandparents may have gotten just by stepping out the front door? Take a look at the winning photographs in this year's Earth and Sky Photo Contest, put on by The World at Night, an international organization dedicated to night-sky photography. [Related: See all the Contest-Winning Photos.]

Catch a glimpse of a shimmering aurora, the riot of stars above an Alpine village, or an apocalyptic yellow sky over Portland, Ore.

About 240 entries poured in from 30 different countries. Judges selected 10 winning images in two categories — photos that showcase light pollution's effects, and photos that reveal the beauty of dark skies unsullied by invading lights.

One of the judges said that although the winning images are all incredible, the contest is about more than just pretty pictures.

"When you're out under a really dark sky and you see the stars and the other planets as they move in their orbits, it shows us something about our place in the universe," said Mike Simmons, president of Astronomers Without Borders, an education organization. "You realize you're a part of something much larger than what we experience in our daily life."

The photographs that capture views free of light pollution are from spots as varied as Iceland, California and China, but far removed from urban sprawl.

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Because of light pollution, as much as two-thirds of the world's people can no longer see the Milky Way, the cloudy swath of stars that indicates the arc of our galaxy, according to some NASA estimates. It's a situation Simmons described as sad, and one that has economic consequences as well.

"We're spending enormous amounts of money shining light up into the sky that is purely waste. It's like watering your lawn, but half of the water goes the wrong way," Simmons told OurAmazingPlanet, adding that if reflectors were affixed to the tops of street lights and other offenders, cities could cut down on their power usage.

"You'd get twice as much light on the ground and less in the sky," Simmons said.

The photo contest, now in its second year, proved extremely popular. Organizers are already planning for next year's competition, which will continue TWAN's mission to highlight the incredible views available right here on Earth.

"If you just don't have lights shining in your eyes at night, you can see the most amazing sights for yourself," Simmons said. "It doesn't require a spacecraft."

To learn more about TWAN, click here.

Reach Andrea Mustain atamustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter@AndreaMustain.

© 2012 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

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