With the possible exception of a lunar eclipse, there is no more stunning night-sky sight visible to the naked eye than our own Milky Way galaxy. And thanks to modern photography and countless dedicated photographers, there may be millions of images of our brilliant galaxy floating around on the Internet. Yet after looking at a few dozen of these photos, you realize something — as awe-inspiring as it is to stand outside, look up and see the Milky Way, many photos of it tend to look somewhat similar. Unless, that is, you pair it with another striking image. We’re not saying the Milky Way needs a prop to stand out in a photo … but sometimes, a little variety helps.
10. Devils Tower, Wyoming
That’s the rock formation, Devils Tower, made famous in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The ultra-dark night skies in that rural state make it a popular spot for night photography. (Photo: David Kingham)
9. Bixby Bridge, California
You’ve probably seen photos of this famous structure along the Pacific Coast Highway, but it takes on a totally different appearance at night with the dark skies over the Pacific highlighting our galaxy and more distant stars. (Photo: Andy Morris/www.PhotoshopScaresMe.com)
8. Mount Rainier, Washington
The majestic 14,411-foot Mount Rainier is the dominant geographic feature in the Pacific Northwest, but persistent cloud cover makes shots such as this a relative rarity. Photographer Michael Matti took this photo about a mile up a trail from the Sunrise Visitors Center.
Photographer Michael Bolognesi captured this image of the summer Milky Way over the lighthouse in Poris de Abona, Tenerife. The glare at lower left is light pollution from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
6. Idaho Truck Stop
Most people don’t associate truck stops with great astronomy photos, but photographer Zach Dischner hit the jackpot at around 2 a.m. one morning at this brightly lit truck stop in Idaho.
5. Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert in remote northern Chile features some of the darkest skies on earth. Add bone-dry weather and elevation over 7,500 feet and you have the perfect spot for an observatory. The European Southern Observatory’s La Silla facility serves as a nice foreground for the Milky Way here. (Photo: ESO and José Francisco Salgado)
4. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Otherworldly-looking Joshua trees provide an eerie foreground for the Milky Way in this photo from Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. (Photo: Chao Yen)
A family takes in the wonders of the night sky, including the Milky Way. (Photo: Paul Nicholson)
2. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photographer Leigh Anderson used four photos to stitch together this great image of the Milky Way over Grand Teton National Park. By the way, the large barn is the T.A. Moulton Barn, a century-old landmark in the park. According to some sources, it is the most photographed barn in the United States.
1. Haystack Rock, Oregon
Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon, is one of the tallest (235 feet tall) sea stacks in the world. To the left are rock formations known as the Needles. As photographer Michael Matti notes on his Flickr page, “The Milky Way can be quite the challenge to photograph as it has to be a clear night, the right time of year, near a new moon, and somewhere away from light pollution. All these factors were true on this night, which allowed me to get this shot. The hotels along the beach behind me even helped light up the sea stacks.” (Photo: http://www.michaelmatti.com)
One More: Pointer
Just in case you went through this entire story and still aren’t sure how to find the Milky Way in the night sky, photographer Joshua Debner uses a laser pointer for illustration.