Best Night-Sky Pictures

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

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.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

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.

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"Against the Lights"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

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.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

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.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

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.

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"Against the Lights"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

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.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

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.

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"Against the Lights"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

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

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

A dazzling green aurora frames the arc of the Milky Way over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacier lake in Iceland, on March 10.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

Twinkling stars over the Austrian Alps compete against the bright glow of a mist-covered town near Lake Traunsee in a February 17, 2010, picture.

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"Against the Lights"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

A tree seems to bend in a galactic breeze in a July 2010 picture of the central bulge of the Milky Way taken from Australia. Our solar system lies in one of the galaxy's spiral arms, about halfway from the galactic center. Recent studies show that the Milky Way's dusty heart houses a supermassive black hole.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

Crisscrossing light trails create a visual cacophony over a bridge in Lisbon, Portugal, in a February 2010 long-exposure picture. Faint star trails and the thicker path of the crescent moon wheel toward the western horizon, while airplanes leave horizontal streaks of light as they fly to or from the Lisbon airport.

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"Against the Lights"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

On July 2010, panoramic picture of the French island of Réunion captures the Milky Way over Piton de la Fournaise, or "peak of the furnace," an active volcano. The small island lies in the Southern Hemisphere, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The shot includes the constellation known as the Southern Cross at upper right, as well as the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds hovering at the lower right. These "clouds" are actually dwarf satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Beauty of the Night Sky"

Seen in April 2011, a gate in the Great Wall of China seems to echo the timelessness of the Milky Way above, "Astronomers Without Borders". Built and rebuilt between the 5th century B.C. and the 17th century A.D., the Great Wall is actually a vast network of structures designed to impede foreign invaders. Despite its legendary longevity, the world landmark represents a blink of an eye in cosmic time.

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"Beauty of the Night Sky"
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"Against the Lights"

Light from Portland, Oregon"50 miles (80 kilometers) away"reflects off clouds in December 2010. Stars just manage to peak through the edges of the cloud cover.

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"Against the Lights"
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