We can see thousands of stars from Earth on a clear night, as long as there’s not a lot of light pollution. In looking at pictures taken while in space, it seems like there are no stars to be found anywhere. Is it actually possible to see stars in space?
Many Pictures From Space Don’t Show Stars
While it may seem like a silly question, if you’ve ever seen a picture taken by astronauts while on the Moon, the sky certainly seems starless. It’s even rumored that Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 mentioned in an interview that he couldn’t see stars while in space.
There are many stellar pictures of planets and moons captured by spacecraft passing by, and these pictures don’t have stars in them either.
We know the stars are up there, so where can they be hiding out?
In fact, many skeptics of the Moon landing have used this argument as proof that the event never happened. They follow the belief that all those stars could not be replicated in whatever movie studio the event was created in.
Those skeptics unfortunately didn’t do their homework on photography. It would have actually been a concern to see stars in those photos.
The Stars Are Clearly There
Just as we can see stars here on Earth, those who have been fortunate enough to travel into space are able to see them from there as well. In fact, stars are even more vibrant after you’ve cleared Earth’s atmosphere.
There are currently six individuals on the International Space Station, and those six people make up the list of every human currently in space.
Due to the nature of the space station’s orbit around the Earth, these astronauts are subject to night sixteen different times a day, for 45 minutes at a time. During those 45 minutes, those six are rewarded with more amazing starscapes than we could ever hope to see on Earth.
While two-thirds of the crew were on the lunar surface, the Apollo 15 command module stayed in orbit around the Moon. While on the dark far side of the Moon, Al Worden declared from the command module that the sky was “awash with stars.”
What’s the Reason Stars Don’t Show Up in Photos From Space?
The inability to see stars in photos from space stems from a simple understanding of optics.
Images on the Moon
As it turns out, Neil Armstrong’s quote was referring to his time standing in the Sun on the lunar surface. Just like on Earth, sunlight makes it all but impossible to see other stars in the sky, even while on the Moon.
Sunlight cascading down onto a bright lunar surface drowns out other stars, even though the Moon itself does not have a significant atmosphere. Stars are more brilliant in space, but not enough to overcome the Sun!
In addition, camera exposure plays a huge factor in capturing objects of different brightness, no matter where in the universe you are.
While on the Moon, astronauts had no choice but to bump the exposure way down on their cameras to be able to capture the lunar surface or their spacesuits. These gray and white objects show up so brightly against a black sky that distant stars don’t have a chance to appear in photos.
While it’s hard to capture a shot of stars with a person in the photo, there are many pictures taken from space that are absolutely full of them.
Even on Earth, taking photos with stars in them is not an easy feat. It’s essential to set up your shots in a very dark area, and you’ll need to increase your camera’s exposure to let enough light in to capture the image.
If you add a person to those photos, you’ll need to use the flash to highlight them, and there is no chance of capturing any stars in the same image.
Images From Spacecraft
Looking a little further away from the Moon, we’ve sent spacecraft to some of the far reaches of the Solar System and captured amazing shots of planets and moons.
Although stars are always present, they are missing from these photos as well. The logic behind this is really no different than men on the Moon, however. These bright planetary bodies become the image’s focal point and drown out any faint objects in the distance.
Consider a real-world example. If you’ve ever taken a photo of someone during daylight next to an open doorway, your camera will adjust its exposure to accommodate the light coming through the door.
In doing so, your photographic target becomes a dark silhouette without clean distinction and many times with a shadow of a face! That bright light from the door darkens or drowns out other objects in its vicinity.
There are more stars than we can ever hope to count, and they are everywhere around us. The Milky Way alone has over 100 billion of them. These stars are incredibly bright, but even light from the closest stars has to travel over 4 years just to reach us. These stars may get drowned out when a significant light source is near, but they make for mind-blowing photos when they’re able to shine through.