Can you see stars in space?

Last updated: 20th February 2020

Can you see stars in space?

Ever since the first moon landing, many people have been wondering about the absence of stars on images taken by astronauts on the moon. And when you think about it, there aren’t many space images taken from the ISS which displays stars in the background.

Why is that?

Why can't you see stars in space images?

No matter where you are on Earth, if you are able to enjoy a clear night sky then you should easily be able to see the stars and perhaps even the milky way. For amateur astronomers, this usually a weekly enjoyment. But what is the difference between what we can see from Earth, and what we can see from outer space?

The lack of stars on images from space is one of the main reasons some people think the moon landing was fabricated by NASA and the US 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 pitch black, then where are the stars?

Can astronaut see stars on the moon?

Because there is no atmosphere in space, the International Space Station, the space shuttles, the lunar satellites and the astronauts on the moon receives a lot more direct light from the sun. 

A very bright, very shiny, very “you-need-to-protect-your-eyes type of light. 

In the age of selfies and Instagram, we are all familiar with how cameras work, right? If you point it at something luminous, the camera will automatically focus on the brightest source of light (like a spacesuit, a lunar vehicle, a big hill covered in white moon dust) and won’t focus much on the background where the much dimmer stars are.

To capture the stars on images taken in space, you would need to use a longer exposure setting which means that your camera shutter will stay open for a longer period of time, allowing it to collect more light through the lens. That’s something that most astrophotographers do all the time when they take pictures of stars and galaxies from Earth.

Unfortunately, guys like Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin were not sent to the moon to do a professional photoshoot: they did not have the time nor the equipment to take advanced images.

no stars in space stars in space

Do astronauts see stars in 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.

You can clearly 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 get to experience night time about 16 times per day so this gives them plenty of opportunities to stargaze.

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.

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