If Only We Could See the Stars Like This

Photo: Eric Nathan

The World at Night’s annual International Earth and Sky photo contest was started in 2009 to promote the night sky as a natural wonder in need of protection. In conjunction with the volunteer and conservation efforts of the U.S. nonprofit Astronomers Without Borders and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the contest brings together nature photographers from around the world to give us a clearer look at what the sky should look like–without any light pollution. The result? A collection of photographs that capture the stuff of stargazers’ dreams.

Photographers hailing from 54 countries submitted more than 1,000 images this year. They follow a simple criteria: Include both the the Earth and the sky and pay “special attention” to astronomical perspectives and celestial phenomena. Here a few of 2015’s winners.

Photo: Star Trails Above Table Mountain
UK traveling photographer Eric Nathan, who has photographed in 87 countries, was awarded first place in the Against the Lights category for this image. The cityscape lights of some of Cape Town’s 987,007 inhabitants are juxtaposed against the flat-topped Table Mountain and the star trails above it. It is comprised of a stack or compilation of over 900 thirty-second exposures, all captured in June 2014.

Photo: Lyubov Trifonova

Murmansk, in northwestern Russia, lies on an inlet of the Barents Sea near Norway and Finland. The region’s subarctic climate and long, cold winter allowed photographer Lyubov Trifonova to capture the snow-covered forest as it was lit by the Aurora Borealis in December 2014. The image is the first winner of the Beauty of Night Sky category.

Photo: Brad Goldpaint

West Coast wilderness and travel photographer Brad Goldpaint took second place in the Beauty category with this photo. It shows a moonlit Mount Rainier in Washington with the Milky Way overhead in July 2014.

Photo: Evgeny Trisko

This image was taken by panoramic photographer Evgeny Trisko in the northern Caucasus Mountains in Russia in August 2014. It shows Mount Elbrus and the Peak Terskol Observatory beneath the Milky Way, which is partially obstructed by clouds reflecting lights from the ground. Trisko’s work took second place in the Against the Lights category.

Photo: Ben Coffman

Taking third place in the Beauty of Night Sky category, this photograph by Portland-based photographer Ben Coffman captures a wide-angle view of Crater Lake National Park with a crescent moon overhead and the sun beginning to rise on a clear morning in February 2015.

Photo: Zhou Yannan

Zhou Yannon’s photo-sequence captures the moon rising and setting over the Yangtze River in Chongqing, China, during a lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014. This image took third place in the Against the Lights category.

Photo: Sigurdur William Brynjarsson

This image by Icelandic photographer Sigurdur Brynjarsson displays a 180-degree view of the aurora borealis during a December 2014 night in Iceland. The dome of the Northern Lights can be seen stretching from the city of Reykjavik (right) to the town of Keflavik to the west (left).

Photo: Hui Chieh Teoh

Malaysian photographer Hui Chieh Teoh created this long exposure image of star trails around the south celestial pole above the steaming volcanoes of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park of East Java, Indonesia, in June 2014. It won fourth place in the Against the Lights category.

Photo: Caren Zhao

This image was taken in February 2015 at the Salar de Uyuni–the world's largest salt flat–in Bolivia by Chinese photographer Caren Zhao. The arc of the southern Milky Way and the zodiacal light above is reflected almost perfectly, earning the photo fifth place in the Beauty of Night Sky category.

Photo: Evgeny Trisko

Trisko also took fifth place in the Against the Lights category with this photo taken in the mountains above the clouds over Pyatigorsk, in the Stavropol region of Russia, in February 2015. The clouds glow with the reflections of the towns and villages beneath.