1st Place, “Beauty of the Night Sky” Category (Photograph courtesy Jia Hao) - A stargazer stands in awe as comet Lovejoy skims across the night sky over Australia last December. Officially known as C/2011 W3, the comet was predicted to dive into the sun and be destroyed. Instead the icy body survived its solar encounter and went on to offer Southern Hemisphere sky-watchers rare views of its bright tail in the predawn skies.
1st Place, “Against the Lights” Category (Photograph courtesy Norbert Span) - The city lights of Innsbruck pool like molten gold in the valleys of the Austrian Alps in last December. Photographer Norbert Span snapped the picture during a stargazing hike up to the summit of Patscherkofel mountain.
2nd Place, “Beauty of the Night Sky” Category (Photograph courtesy Christoph Otawa) - A long-exposure picture captures the stars wheeling over Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three peaks in the Dolomite mountain range, a UN World Heritage site in northeastern Italy. Lights from cars, meanwhile, trace the surrounding roadway.
2nd Place, “Against the Lights” Category (Photograph courtesy Luis Argerich) - Photographer Luis Argerich was “captivated by the arch of the Milky Way mimicking the shape of the hills” when he took this picture from the Argentine countryside. The panorama also captures the white blobs of the Magellanic clouds, two satellite dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way—despite light pollution from nearby cities.
3rd Place, “Beauty of the Night Sky” Category (Photograph courtesy Stephane Vetter) - Like arrows aimed at the heavens, the rocks of the Arctic Henge at Raufarhöfn, Iceland, stand silhouetted against brilliant auroras. The monument is being built as something of a modern Stonehenge, with slabs of rock placed in astronomical alignments tied to the summer solstice. The overall design is based on the Old Norse poem Völuspá, or Prophecy of the Seeress.
3rd Place, “Against the Lights” Category (Photograph courtesy Luc Perrot) - The sun-grazing comet Lovejoy seems to dive toward the horizon in a picture taken from the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
4th Place, “Beauty of the Night Sky” Category (Photograph courtesy Thomas Neudert) - The moon illuminates frozen “sculptures” in a picture of the night sky seen from a snow-covered forest. Part of the familiar constellation Orion, the hunter, hangs in the sky near the tip of the foreground tree.
4th Place, “Against the Lights” Category (Photograph courtesy Norbert Span) - Seen from high on the Austrian Alps, illumination from a nearby ski resort competes with the stars, as the man-made light gets scattered upward by atmospheric particles.
5th Place, “Beauty of the Night Sky” Category (Photograph courtesy Eric Hines) - A country road in Wyoming parallels the band of the Milky Way in a summertime shot by photographer Eric Hines. “Spending the nights under the stars in some of the most remote places in the U.S. is what keeps me going,” Hines said in an email.
5th Place, “Against the Lights” Category (Photograph courtesy Majid Ghohroodi) - A brilliant moon casts deep shadows over ancient ruins in Iran, while stars glitter overhead.