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Photos: Contest Showcases Night Sky Sparkle

Photo Contest Alps

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(Image credit: Thomas Kurat. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Alps at Night" by Thomas Kurat (www.tkphotos.at). First prize in the Against the Light category. The starry sky above this misty Alpine landscape, centered around light-invaded Lake Traunsee in Austria, shows the fight between increasing light pollution and the natural dark skies.

The photo was a contestant in the second International Earth and Sky Photo Contest , run by The World at Night (TWAN), an organization dedicated to night sky photography. The winning photographs showcase the beauty of the nightly display over our planet, and reveal the ever-encroaching danger of light pollution, which blots out stars and planets. The two categories for contest photos were Against the Lights, for photos that reflect light pollution troubles, and Beauty of the Night Sky, for photos that highlight truly dark-sky views. Click through to see all the stunning winners of this year's contest.

Photo Contest Aurora

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(Image credit: Stephane Vetter. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"A Starry Night in Iceland" by Stephane Vetter (http://www.nuitsacrees.fr/). First prize in the Beauty of the Night Sky category. The arch of the aurora shines over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacier lake in Iceland. The Milky Way is framed by the dancing ring of the northern lights, or aurora borealis .

Photo Contest Iran

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(Image credit: Mehdi Momenzadeh. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Isfahan Milky Way" by Mehdi Momenzadeh (www.photographyblog.ir). Second-place winner in the Against the Lights category. The arc of the Milky Way rises above central Iran, and it is faded away in the northeast by the lights of the historic city of Isfahan.

Photo Contest Australia

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(Image credit: Alex Cherney. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Galatic View From Planet Earth" by Alex Cherney (www.terastro.com). The 2nd-place winner in the Beauty of the Night Sky category in the 2011 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. The central bulge of the galaxy -- the brightest region in the band of the Milky Way -- is captured on a starry night in Australia.

Photo Contest Portugal

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(Image credit: Miguel Claro. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Lisbon Sky Lights" by Miguel Claro (http://miguelclaro.com). Third place in the Against the Lights category. Stars and the crescent moon trail toward the western horizon above the 25 April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) in Lisbon, Portugal. Jet trails from airplanes flying to or from the Lisbon airport crisscross the moontrail.

Photo Contest Volcano

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(Image credit: Luc Perrot. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Beauty of Sourthern Sky" by Luc Perrot (www.lucperrot.fr). Third place in Beauty of the Night Sky category. The band of the Milky Way arcs above Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace), a very active volcano on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. In the background sky note the Southern Cross on the upper right and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds on the lower right.

Photo Contest Venus

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(Image credit: Luc Perrot. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Venus Above Reunion Island" by Luc Perrot (www.lucperrot.fr). Fourth place in the Against the Lights category. The dazzling light of Venus is captured in this panoramic mountain view from a national park on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Mars is visible to the lower right of brighter Venus, and bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri are to the top left. The colorful glows in the fog are from the lights of small villages hidden in the valley.

Photo Contest China

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(Image credit: Xiaohua. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"The Great Wall at Night" by Xiaohua (mr_wxh@hotmail.com). Fourth place in the Beauty of the Night Sky category in the 2011 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. The Milky Way in the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius stands above the Wu Saint Gate in the Great Wall of China.

Photo Contest Portland

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(Image credit: Ben Canales. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Lights From the Hidden City" by Ben Canales (www.thestartrail.com). Fifth place in the Against the Lights category. Light pollution reflects in winter cloud cover. The source of the apocalyptic glow is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away -- the city of Portland, Oregon.

Photo Contest California

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(Image credit: Grant Kaye. Courtesy of TWAN (www.twanight.org).)

"Startrails above an Alien Lake" by Grant Kaye (http://grantkaye.com). Fifth place in the Beauty of the Night Sky category in the 2011 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. Stars trails move around the north celestial pole, photographed from the shore of Mono Lake in California. The salty, mineral-laden lake has spindly rock formations which are naturally formed limestone towers known as tufa.