When you look at all those starless Apollo photographs taken on the moon, you might think that space is nothing but a vast chasm of darkness—but astronauts are always seeing stars.
Stars are visible from the moon and the International Space Station, no matter what those photos might have you believe. No, it’s not some sort of government conspiracy. There is a reason the backdrop in those Apollo mission photos makes it look as if every star in existence has suddenly winked out. Camera exposures for these shots were set up to capture astronauts in white space suits and metal spacecraft that gave off a glare. Everything surrounding the astronauts looked black, but the astronauts themselves had something else to say about it. You just needed to cancel out daylight. The view from the far side of the moon that the sun’s rays couldn’t reach gave Al Worden of Apollo 15 an eyeful of a sky “awash in stars.”
Stargazers in space (just like those on Earth) have an easier time observing stars up above the world the darker it is. When other Apollo astronauts orbited the dark side of the moon, they were able to see those diamonds in the sky, which they were also able to see while standing in the lunar module’s shadow and away from all its shiny metallic brightness.
It wasn’t just the Apollo missions, either. Here’s the incredible time-lapse photo astronaut Jack Fischer recently tweeted from the ISS:
Just in case you’re not convinced:
Night photography has a whole different set of rules. Aboard the ISS, night falls 16 times a day in 45-minute intervals as the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes. Skies are almost devoid of sunlight on the far side—wherever most people are asleep at the moment—making for a spectacular view of the stars. Getting stars to shine in a photo is all about exposure. The reason you can’t get a stellar Instagram photo even when there’s a clear sky scattered with stars outside is that you don’t have enough exposure. ISS astronauts wouldn’t capture much either if they didn’t get long-exposure shots of the cosmos.
While you might not be able to tweet awesome star shots from space, you can still make the internet ooh and aah with just a camera and a tripod, with the lens focused on infinity (and beyond). Rocket over here and get in on how to capture stars.