What does space look like when you're in space?
July 8, 2013 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Once you've flown away from the Earth what's the view like during interplanetary travel? Do planets look as they do on Earth, or are they brighter? What about the stars—or does the sun wash out a lot unless you're in a shadow? Aside from very bright, what does an unshielded sun look like? How far do you need to travel before you loose sight of the Moon? Is any of this like playing Kerble Space Program?

I'm imagining looking out the window of your spacecraft that you'd see either tons of bright stars packed into the sky, or just the brilliant point of the sun and nothing else but blackness.
posted by Hoenikker to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Once you've flown away from the Earth what's the view like during interplanetary travel?

Pretty much the same as it does when you're in orbit. We've got tons of photographs from various probes in interplanetary space, and except for the fact that they're way closer to Jupiter (or whatever) than we are, they look basically the same as photographs taken from orbit.

As to all the rest of your questions, you do know that we've got pictures of all of this stuff right? Except for the "unshielded" sun. Unless you use some kind of filter, you don't get images that way. But we've got spectacular images of the sun taken with filters.
posted by valkyryn at 7:34 AM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: Great video, zombieflanders, but is the same visible when you're not on the night side of the Earth?

And how different would this look as perceived by the human eye, instead of a camera lens? Thanks!
posted by Hoenikker at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2013

From Saturn the Earth looks like a Pale Blue Dot. (via previous mefi)
posted by alms at 7:43 AM on July 8, 2013

Stars don't twinkle without an atmosphere, so there's that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:53 AM on July 8, 2013

That is to say, stars don't twinkle unless viewed from a planet with an atmosphere.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:57 AM on July 8, 2013

When I was playing around with Celestia (which I recommend you do too) what really came through is how empty everything is. You're flying around much faster than anything can go in real life and it still takes forever to get to anything else you can see. SO in essence space is huge swaths of empty blackness with various pinpricks of light around.
posted by koolkat at 8:26 AM on July 8, 2013

Michael Collins was aboard the Command Module of Apollo 11 alone while Armstrong and Aldrin made the the first landing on the moon. Apollo 11 landed on the face of the moon that faces earth, which was in full sunlight at the time, and thus as Collins orbited behind the moon into its night, he reported seeing a vast quantity of stars. He has written a few books on the topic, but he's one of the best witnesses to what you're talking about; he was completely blocked from the sun and could only see the moon as a circular gap of blackness in an otherwise beautiful expanse of stars. (He also enjoyed a few days in this orbit stewing in dread of the possibility that something could go horribly wrong down below, and that he'd have to return to Earth alone. Oof.) You might try locating some of his accounts in text and on film.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:48 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

This radiolab podcast may be of interest to you: Astronaut Dave Wolf describes the extreme darks and lights of space as he experienced it. Also, he tells one hell of a story.
posted by shw at 9:06 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about the stars—or does the sun wash out a lot unless you're in a shadow?

When Apollo astronauts were on the dark side of the Moon, they often described it as bit ominous, due to stars being visible, except for a clear black disk (or arc, depending on how close they were) where the Moon obviously was.

Is any of this like playing Kerble Space Program?

Having played the game a lot and looked at a fair number of photos and videos of astronauts on the the Moon and in space, I think KSP gets the look of things pretty well in broad strokes. On the KSP version of the Moon, it hard to judge distance when you're on ground, since there's no atmosphere and no objects to compare distance.

However, there's some creative license with how space looks, particularly with the visibility of other galaxies in the distance and the clarity of our (or the game's) home galaxy. In general, space isn't as bright and pretty as portrayed in the game.

In terms of flying back and forth to the Moon the Apollo "stack" was in bbq mode, with the ships slowly spinning to avoid overheating. The astronauts would get alternating views of the Sun, Earth or Moon, if the ship was aligned so that those objects would appear in the narrow space of one of the five windows on the Command Module. Usually it wasn't, so often the first view the astronauts would have of the Moon would be from lunar orbit.

You can get a sense of this in KSP if you spin your ship, then look at the Kerbals in the small window in the lower right and you've time warped a bit. Notice how the sunlight alternately appears and disappears? That's similar to what the astronauts experienced. However, since KSP is still in alpha stage and has yet to implement many features, there's no need for bbq mode in the game.

When orbiting Kerbin (the home planet), the view feels right and is gorgeous, especially with the sunsets and sunrises. But the lack of clouds and a weather system is noticeable. That's going to be added later.

When docking ships and look at the window, things feel "right" in the sense that there's parts of the other ship you can't see and the field of view is narrowly defined by the shape of the window.

Aside from very bright, what does an unshielded sun look like?

It's my understanding that astronauts avoid looking directly at the unshielded sun, as it can cause eye damage.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you're in the full light of the sun, can you see other stars?
posted by Hoenikker at 10:32 AM on July 8, 2013

From what I remember from my school discussions, you can see other stars even when sun is there .. .. you might need to block out the sun or look in other direction so that the sun doesn't affect the viewing capability of your eyes or your camera.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:52 PM on July 8, 2013

This is specifically about the 'travelling' part of being around space, as opposed to just floating around in space, but Vsauce from youtube made this video! Thought I should share it, his videos are really cool if you are like Physics.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 7:25 PM on July 8, 2013

Interesting discussion. The idea of space travel sounds scary as hell. I really admire the bravery of all astronauts.
posted by freakazoid at 7:46 AM on July 9, 2013

If you're in the full light of the sun, can you see other stars?

No. The human eye can't be sensitive to dim lights when bright lights are visible. I think the term here is Dynamic Range. Sensors with high dynamic range (you've seen HDR pictures, probably) can see dim things and bright things at the same time. (This effect can also be faked by combining multiple photos, and usually is.)

Back to Apollo 11, when you see photographs of the astronauts, they were taken with the sun overhead, basically Noon on the moon. The illuminated rocky surface and their white suits meant that that the cameras (and human irises) were stopped down to exclude a lot of light. For that reason, the sky overhead appears pitch black. The stars aren't bright enough to be visible. The only thing in the sky over Tranquility Base bright enough to be visible was the Earth, and I'd bet they had to some work to avoid overexposing it. Atmospheric considerations aside, it's the same reason you can't see the stars on Earth at noon.

This black sky was been cited frequently as proof that the moon landing was faked. For that reason, there's a decent bit of information out there about this particular event.

Away from any planets or moons, the same effect should be present; bright objects just saturate the sensors (human, film, and CCDs, or whatever other light-sensitive chips are in digital cameras these days) and obliterate any information about dim objects.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:33 PM on July 9, 2013

« Older Please share with me your experiences with...   |   How do I find the details of a business's unpaid... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.