All the photographs I've seen from the Apollo missions show lunar features in good detail and exposure. This of course means that the shutter is not open long enough for light from stars to develop on the film.

Hence every photograph has a characteristically inky and plain black backdrop. An example is this image:

Earth from Moon

However, for the astronauts actually on the Moon, all the stars and galaxies should have been perfectly visible. In fact, they should have been the most clearly visible stars seen by human eyes, since they were further out of Earth's atmosphere than ever before.

What did the sky look like from the Moon? Are there any images (real or digitally-altered) that can show us what it looked like?

  • $\begingroup$ This was taken in UV, not visible light, but might give a little bit of an idea. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Oct 7 '15 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ That's a long exposure photo. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Oct 7 '15 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ I need to take a picture of my watch partially submerged in water. The bit under water experiences total internal reflection on the boundary with the glass, thus appearing reflective. The bit touching air remains see through. Looking at the sky (glass of watch) from earth (under water) - as you know - appears blue (where as the glass reflects all) where as from space (the air of the watch) it appears clear. $\endgroup$ – Alec Teal Oct 7 '15 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ See also Why are there no stars visible in cislunar space? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 18 at 1:22

The astronauts on the moon had the same problem as the photos - their eyes were adapted to the light levels reflected from the moon's surface, so it was almost as hard to see the stars as it is to see them from Earth during the day.

Neil Armstrong said, in a post-Apollo 11 press conference: "we were never able to see stars from the lunar surface or on the daylight side of the Moon by eye without looking through the optics."

Gene Cernan said that, while standing in the shadow of the Apollo 17 LM, he could see some stars while he was outside.

All the landings were done on the daylight side of the moon.

  • $\begingroup$ It might be good to parallel this with Earth during the day, and in a way you did. We can't see stars in the day on Earth for the same reason you can't see them in the 'day' on the moon (or on the ISS, etc). For those interested see the following [link] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) for broader explanation. $\endgroup$ – spacer Oct 8 '15 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ No, there's another factor in play on Earth--the atmosphere. The blue of our atmosphere is scattering--my understanding is that even with a long enough exposure you'll just get sky, not stars. In theory an astronaut on the moon could see stars, though--look at an angle that doesn't let them see the sun or the moon and wait for their eyes to adapt. (Now, actually attaining that angle in a spacesuit is another matter....) $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 10 '15 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ I believe an astronaut could have seen the stars - lie on his back to remove all bright objects out of his field of view, and allow eyes to adapt to the darkness of the sky over good several minutes - if they ever had time for such an idle experience. Of course he'd be totally blinded by the sunlit surface the moment he turned his head or stood up. $\endgroup$ – SF. Nov 19 '15 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ @SF.: Isn’t that what Loren Pechtel already said? $\endgroup$ – chirlu Nov 19 '15 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @jumpjack You should try to see the stars at night on your mountain immediately after leaving an extreamly bright room lighted like a TV studio. You would need some minutes to adapt your eyes to the night until you are able to see the stars. Full adaptation may need 30 to 45 minutes. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jul 7 '17 at 14:37

Astronaut William Anders said in an interview that on the way to the moon (the first time men ever made this trip), they could see very few stars, until the Apollo 8 spacecraft passed into the shadow of the moon. With all direct sunlight now blocked, they could see every imaginable star, to the point where constellations became difficult to make out.

edit: the link below is broken, here is a possible replacement: Neil Armstrong interview, BBC 1970.

Start at 10:20 here:

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    $\begingroup$ uhoh! the link is lost - any chance you can find a new one? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 14 '16 at 17:18

This doesn't cover all cases, but you can load a planetarium app like Stellarium, go do a date/time with a full moon at the right position in the sky, and what the sky looks like from the Earth would be the starfield as seen from the dark side of the moon.

Likewise, going to the opposite side of the Earth at that same time will show you what the celestial sphere looks like from the light side, minus the Earth in the sky.


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