"The sky above us is a crucial part of our nature," Babak Tafreshi said in a speech declaring the winners of this year's International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. Tafreshi started the program The World at Night (TWAN), which co-founded this yearly photo competition in 2008. The main objective of the contest is to raise wakefulness about light pollution, which covers our view of planets, stars, and galaxies in the beautiful night sky — a view that is becoming more infrequent each year as cities swell larger and brighter. "Maybe from this viewpoint we can better preserve the natural night sky and relink it with our modern life," Tafreshi said about the competition. Here are the 10 award-winning pictures for this year, chosen from an original pool of more than 1,000.
The bright band of the Milky Way Galaxy is a beautiful backdrop to this photo of Mt. Rainier in Washington state.
City lights illuminate the clouds in this photo of Russia's northern Caucasus Mountains. Peak Terskol Observatory sits at the center against a starry night sky.
The moon, located right of center, lights this snow-covered forest in Murmansk, Russia. Above, a bright-green aurora borealis adorns the night sky.
Here, a giant aurora stretches across the night sky connecting the Icelandic cities of Keflavik on the left with Reykjavik on the right.
This tranquil photo shows the Moon and Milky Way band against the pristine horizon of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Here, natural star light is a backdrop to the synthetic city lights of Cape Town, South Africa.
Stars pepper the night sky while lights from distant towns shine through low-hanging clouds in this photo taken in the Pyatigorsk, Stavropol region of Russia.
The world's largest salt flat is in Bolivia, where this stunning photo shows the Milky Way arcing across the reflective surface.
Mount Bromo is the smoking, distant volcano in this photo composition taken in East Java, Indonesia with star trails — the arcs of light in the sky — in the background.