There are numerous pictures, obviously, of the blackness of space from the shuttle, the space station, and even the moon. But they all suffer from being from the perspective of a camera, which is not sensitive enough to pick up the stars in the background when compared to the bright foreground objects (the limb of the Earth, the station, moon, etc). I've seen some photos that show a few of the brightest stars, but nothing special.

Are there any photos or eye witness accounts from astronauts of what it looks like to a human with night-adjusted vision? If I were in an orbit similar to the space station and looked away from the Earth, would I be able to see more stars than I ever could on Earth, or would it only be marginally better than the best terrestrial night viewing?

  • $\begingroup$ You are literally asking for a photograph that shows something that, according to you, can not be shown in a photograph. Maybe you really want to ask for a "High Dynamic Range (HDR)" photograph. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-dynamic-range_imaging $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ Re, "...and looked away from the Earth...", If you did that while on the daylight side of the Earth, you might be looking toward the Sun. What you really want is to exclude the Sun and anything that reflects sunlight from your field of view... $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 21:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ AFAIK spacecraft and space stations to date have only had small ports, and there is probably always enough light inside that you would get lots of reflection. This is why we don't normally do our stargazing from inside a house. The ISS also rotates relative to the stars with a period equal to its orbital period. In an EVA you might get rid of some of these problems, but EVAs are strenuous, dangerous, and time-limited. $\endgroup$
    – user4552
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 12:22

2 Answers 2


I haven't been to space :( and don't know of any accounts to point you to but I suspect that the view would be marginally better than that on earth.

First, the "black of space" would be really black i.e. no light. Even in dark skies there is a bit of scattered light in the atmosphere (even if just from scattered starlight) so you'd have higher contrast.

Additionally, you wouldn't have any "seeing" effects, the bluring of the starlight by the shifting atmosphere so the stellar images would be more concentrated. Not that you'd probably be able to consciously notice. The net effect would be to sharpen the stellar image on you eyes and increase the contrast a bit more.

I suspsect you'd see a few more stars for the above reasons, especially the latter as you eyes would have a better chance to detect light from the sharper stellar images. However, it wouldn't be a huge amount more as the stars are intrinsically faint and your eyes are only so senstive.

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, thank you :) I find it hard to believe that no astronaut has ever really written about the experience though (not that you said there isn't), I'm hoping someone still knows of one... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 22:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm sure someone has, I just don't know of any. I guess I could put the word out through work to see if I could get any response. I don't know any astronauts personally, but I believe some of my collegues might. $\endgroup$
    – dagorym
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ But I've always wondered about the optics of a spaceship / ISS -- don't you suspect they have relatively small windows, thick glass not chosen for light transmission, and lots of reflections and ambient light? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Well there's always spacewalks, and visors I'd think would be selected for good viewing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 5:50

It will be better than observing from Earth, especially if you observe while in the shadow of the Earth. This is because the atmosphere absorbs some of the light entering the atmosphere, making it harder to see dimmer or further away stars. Like how in fog it is easier to see a objects closer to your than further away.

The atmosphere also scatters light. This affects blue light (shorter wavelength) more than red light, so this will slightly alter the appearance of stars, making them seem slightly red than the actually are (because more blue light is being scattered and is therefore not reaching your eye).

The Earth's atmosphere is also not uniform in density, pockets of different densities move around, as they do so they refract the light randomly. Cold air is more dense than hot air, and the greater the density of the air, the more the light is refracted. This provides the twinkling effectwe see from Earth, and can make stars appear as though they are changing colour slightly.

Additionally some light coming from Earth will reflect off the atmosphere and backdown, drowning out stars, this is the orange glow above cities. It also depends on whats in the air the more dust and particles in the air the more the [negative] effect the atmosphere will have on viewing conditions.

Stars near the horizon on Earth will be even more effected as the light coming from them will have travelled through more atmosphere to get to your eye, than stars directly overhead. This doesn't happen in space either.

This is why telescopes are better placed on mountains (eg Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is the tallest mountian on earth, although not the highest, but there is very little light pollution and the weather is stable) and will get even better quality in space (eg Hubble Space Telescope), because there is no atmosphere to get in the way. So yes the stars will be brighter in orbit and will be clearer without twinkling.

See this question on the NASA site as well

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I'm aware of all the effects the atmosphere has. Naturally the stars will be better from orbit, but what I'm really after is HOW MUCH better. Is it so much better that you'd never hope to see a similar starfield from Earth, or is it only marginally better than the best night viewing conditions on the surface? Would you barely notice the difference between the two, or is it 'stunningly' different? :) No one seems to know that. I'd think an astronaut would have given an account either way... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, to be honest, I was typing it more to see if I could remember the effects of the atomosphere ;) The answer on the NASA I linked to described them as being 'wonderful', however thats a Dr hearing it from some else, so it's not the most reliable source :) $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning light pollution, it is the biggest factor on how clearly we can see the sky from Earth: petapixel.com/2016/08/15/light-pollution-affects-see-night-sky $\endgroup$
    – Fax
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 14:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.