Can you see stars in space?

Last updated: March 16, 2021

Since the first moon landing, many people have wondered about the absence of stars in the images taken by astronauts on the moon. And when you think about it, there aren’t many images of space taken from the ISS that show stars in the background. Why is that?

Astronaut in space

Why can't you see stars in space images?

Wherever you are on Earth, if you can enjoy a clear night sky, you should be able to easily see the stars and maybe even the Milky Way. For amateur astronomers, this is usually a weekly or a daily treat. But what is the difference between what we can see from Earth and what we can see from space?

The absence of stars in images taken in space is one of the main reasons why some people think the moon landing was fabricated by NASA and the U.S. government. But if we put our tinfoil hat down for a second, it’s actually a valid point: if the “sky” in space is always completely black, then where are the stars?

Can astronaut see stars on the moon?

Because there is no atmosphere in space, the International Space Station, space shuttles, lunar satellites and astronauts on the moon receive much more direct sunlight. 

Very bright, very bright, “you must protect your eyes” type light. 

In the age of selfies and Instagram, we all know how cameras work, don’t we? If you point it at something bright, the camera will automatically focus on the brightest light source (such as a spacesuit, a lunar vehicle, a big hill covered with white moon dust) and will not focus much on the background where the much fainter stars are.

Taking pictures of stars in outer space

If you were to try imaging the stars while standing on the moon, you would need to use a long exposure setting, which means the shutter on your camera will stay open longer, allowing it to collect more light through the lens. This is what most astrophotographers do all the time when taking pictures of stars and galaxies from Earth.

Unfortunately, astronauts like Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin were not sent to the moon to do a professional photo shoot: they had neither the time nor the equipment to take advanced images.

no stars in space stars in space

Can astronauts see stars while in outer space?

In short, Yes they can! There have been many reports from astronauts stationed on the ISS like Mr Jack Fischer (@Astro2fish) who shared the below video a few years ago.

We can see that with the right equipment and enough time, astronauts are able to observe many stars as well as the Milky Way, our home galaxy! They experience night about 16 times a day, which gives them many opportunities to observe the stars.

Science Officer Don Pettit wrote “You see stars and planets and our galaxy on edge” in his space chronicle article for the NASA website. And in 2003, astronaut Edward Lu stated that he could even very clearly see Mars as well.

Update July 2020: Astronaut Bob Behnken recently released new images taken from the cupola dome aboard the International Space Station. The main subject of these 4 images is comet NEOWISE, but if you look around you can also see a few stars here and there.

Tom Urbain

Space exploration has been a fascinating subject for me since a very young age. As a child, astronauts were my heroes, so it was inevitable that a part of my website would be dedicated to astronauts and their space missions.

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