Why there are no stars in space photos? Or in moon landing photos? Because, when you try to shoot a very bright object (for example, the Earth) and very dim objects (stars) in the same frame, you cannot properly expose both. To be able to see the stars, the bright object would have to be overexposed making it appear as a featureless white blob.

Why there are no stars in space photos? Space Shuttle Atlantis (ISS photo)
Space Shuttle Atlantis immersed in the total darkness of space (photo taken from the International Space Station)

For example, in the photo above, we can see Space Shuttle Atlantis immersed in the total darkness of space. There are no stars in the photo. Is this photo fake?

Of course not.

Because even though the sky is black, it was still “day” here – which means the body of the Earth is not between the Sun and the astronauts on board the International Space Station. In this photo, Space Shuttle Atlantis is illuminated by the sun and, hence it is a very bright object.

Just like at night on Earth, you need to expose your picture for a good fraction of a second or more to see stars. At that point, the shuttle would be completely over-exposed.

This is the same reason why there are no stars in the sky of the moon landing. Not because it was shot in a studio and the world’s brightest scientists just forgot about the existence of stars. No, it’s because all Apollo lunar landings happened during the lunar day and the white space suits and bright lunar regolith were illuminated by the Sun.

Stars are also rarely seen in sporting events that take place at night, for example.

There are no stars in space photos? Actually, there are

Here’s a picture below that might give you an idea of what the sky looks like for astronauts and cosmonauts. This was shot at “night” so you can see the stars but keep in mind that, to the human eye, most of the sky around you looks like this at all times. You just usually can’t capture it in photographs.

Earth Enveloped in an Orange Airglow
Why there are no stars in space photos? Actually, there are. Here is a photo of Earth Enveloped in an Orange Airglow. Image: NASA On October 7, 2018, the International Space Station was orbiting about 256 miles above South Australia when a camera on board the orbital complex captured this celestial view of Earth’s atmospheric glow and the Milky Way. The orange hue enveloping Earth is known as airglow – diffuse bands of light that stretch 50 to 400 miles (80-644 km) into our atmosphere. The phenomenon typically occurs when molecules (mostly nitrogen and oxygen) are energized by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. To release that energy, atoms in the lower atmosphere bump into each other and lose energy in the collision. The result is colorful airglow. Airglow reveals some of the workings of the upper reaches of our atmosphere. It can help scientists learn about the movement of particles near the interface of Earth and space, including the connections between space weather and Earth weather. Satellites offer one way to study this dynamic zone. NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite will help scientists understand the physical processes at work where Earth’s atmosphere interacts with near-Earth space.
Moon Landing - Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Moon Landing: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin’s portable life support system (“backpack”). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar “sky”. The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure. This image was cataloged by NASA Headquarters of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID: AS11-40-5903. Image: Wikipedia
M. Özgür Nevres

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