Why are the stars missing in Space photographs?

Stars are dim and invisible in many of the space photos that we see. Many people consider that as the evidence to the claim that moon landings were a hoax and space studies are a global conspiracy.


While such claims deserve no merit, it is still important to understand why the space appears starless and empty in many of our classic space shots.


A camera doesn’t work the way our eyes do

You might have a million-dollar camera with you and still, it would be inferior to the pair of eyes you have. Our eyes do not capture a single static image as a camera does. Everything we see is an illusion created by our brain, using the continuous stream of sensory data collected by our eyes.


During this process our eyes shift around, capturing the image in several variations with a higher range of light sensitivity. This versatility that eyes give us the ability to see our friend’s face even when he is sitting in front of a brightly lit background, or window during noon.


Unfortunately, the same friend would appear nothing like what we saw with our eyes when photographed with a normal digital camera. This difference in how our eyes see and how the camera work is the real reason why we don’t see any stars in many space photos.


To take a picture, a camera has to let in light just enough to create a snapshot of that moment. If the camera was to expose the sensor/film slightly more or less than what is necessary the photos will end up either burned out or dark.


Now let’s come back to the space cameras. Space cameras are specially designed for a mission and they cater to specific objectives. That is something we have to keep in mind before we throw a tantrum regarding missing stars.


When we think about space, we know that it is pitch black out there. But that doesn’t mean the space is not bright, especially when you are close to the sun. We experience the sky as blue here on Earth because our atmosphere scatters light. Since the space is empty there is no scattering.


But, the sun is still there shining bright.


Sun’s light gets reflected by Earth and Moon as well, and what this means is that compared to planets, stars are much darker and need to be exposed more to be captured by a camera. Normally the photos of stars that we see are taken specifically for the purpose of taking pictures of stars. They come with larger exposure settings and are incredibly sensitive to light. So even if the stars are dim, they are designed to make the stars pop.

When our astronauts were on the moon, they were not trying to take pictures of the stars. Their camera was to take the pictures of their shiny white suits in the backdrop of a grey moon. It’s a well-lit environment and thus when taking such a photo the dim stars in the background wouldn’t come through in the final image.


These take cameras to take images with low exposure and faster aperture speeds to avoid burned images. It is similar to how you can not see at night when you immediately come out of a well-lit room into a darker room.


Having said that, technology now allows us to have cameras that can adjust to these differences and take good pictures under every condition. But even still star photography is something that expert photographers plan for, by measuring atmospheric conditions, time of the year, and what.


I hope now, you know enough to explain to someone they ask why stars are missing from many of our space photos.


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