These are our best space photos of all time

We’ve never seen images of space as stunning as those from the James Webb Space Telescope, which he shared First Cosmic Horizons in July. The photos have left us dazzled, stunned, and excited for more. They also inspired us to think about the best images of space, past and present. These images have touched us because of their drama, beauty or significance. Here’s how eight Science news The staff answered the question: What’s your favorite space photo of all time?

Apollo 8 Earthrise, taken in 1968

This view of Earth taken during the Apollo 8 orbit of the Moon shows the Earth floating in the background and the surface of the Moon in the foreground.  It is one of our best space photos.
The Apollo 8 crew orbited the Moon 10 times during late December 1968, capturing this view of Earth.NASA

Lisa Grossman, an astronomy writer, chose an Apollo 8 Earthrise as her best photo in space. It’s the sci-fi feeling of being there, she says, but it’s the real feeling of seeing Earth on the edge of the moon that keeps my imagination going. And something about the presence of the lunar surface in the image gives me deep goosebumps. I can visualize my feet in those gray pits, my eyes looking back at my floor. It’s wild. It’s weird. I love him.

I feel the same about selfies from Mars rover; Here’s NASA’s Curiosity rover at Mount Mirco in 2021.

Selfie of the Curiosity rover with views of Mars including Monte Mirco in the background.  This is the runner-up for our best space photo.
NASA’s Curiosity rover used a camera on its head and one on its robotic arm to create a selfie with Mount Mirco in March 2021.NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech, MSSS

You can see the rover and the landscape behind it. This is our robotic image on this planet, and it’s about doing our job. Although I’m lukewarm about sending people to do extraterrestrial exploration—I think the risks outweigh the scientific benefits—I’ve always been cliched about imagining living on another world. Or at least visit.

JWST close-up of Neptune, taken in 2022

Close-up of Neptune, showing its rings.  This is one of our best space photos.
Neptune and its rings glow in infrared light in this image from the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s the first direct look at Neptune’s rings in over 30 years.NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency, STSCI, Joseph DePasquial/SSCI

Nick OgasaPhysical Science staff writer, says: There are a lot of amazing space photos out there, but my favorite from this year was James Webb Space Telescope A sky shot of Neptune. it is amazing. The image captures the planet’s near-infrared glow in unprecedented detail. Not only can you see the brilliant rings, but you can also pick out high-altitude methane clouds as bright streaks. It amazes me that we can see clouds on another world billions of miles away.

Pillars of Creation, first captured in 1995

New stars are being born in these towers of gas and dust, called the Pillars of Creation, in the Eagle Nebula.  It's an iconic image and one of the best images of space we've ever had.
After capturing the Pillars of Creation in 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged them a second time in late 2014 (the image in visible light is shown here).NASA, the European Space Agency, and the STSCI/AURA heritage Hubble team

Two members of our team selected the Hubble Space Telescope’s second view of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 2014, as a top space image.

Design Director Erin Otwell He says: My satellite image is the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula. It is my choice because of the amazing detail and technical quality of the composition. For me, this picture sums up the feeling of studying the universe and creation itself. The towers of gas and dust where new stars are born form a semi-solid form. They look more like hand than columns.

Maria TimingAssistant editor at Science News ExploresI know, he says, claiming the Pillars of Creation as my favorite space image is like saying Starbucks is my favorite coffee. But I don’t care! I love him. I have something of an emotional attachment to this scene, because it was on the cover of the Great Courses Introduction to Astronomy DVD set that sparked my interest in space science for the first time.

The Pillars of Creation appear in infrared light, revealing more stars hidden in gas and dust.
In an infrared view of the Pillars of Creation, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in late 2014, stars are visible in and behind towers of gas and dust.NASA, European Space Agency, Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

The iconic color images of the pillars in visible light aren’t the only versions Hubble has made. In 2014, the space telescope also captured a ghostly image of the scene in infrared light (above). Light shines at infrared wavelengths through the plume’s gas and dust, revealing the tiny stars coiled within these clouds.

Thomas Digges’ View of the Universe, published in 1576

Illustration of the universe showing the sun at the center of the solar system and stars outside the solar system.  It's one of our favorite space photos.
In this photograph published in 1576, English astronomer Thomas Digges depicts stars that extend far beyond the solar system.Wellcome Group

Tom Siegfried, a contributing reporter, chose this diagram as his favorite space image. When Copernicus removed the Earth from the center of the universe, he says, he pictured the stars as occupying a planetary sphere revolving around smaller spheres surrounding the sun. But Thomas Digges, the English astronomer who defended Copernicus, believed that the stars extend far beyond the solar system.

In this picture, published in 1576, Digges depicted many stars outside the spheres of the planets, suggesting that the universe is “garnished with countless lights and reaches a spherical height without end.” With these words Digges was the first follower of Copernicus to suggest that the universe includes an infinite expanse of space.

The Milky Way’s black hole was released in 2022

The glowing orange ring shows the event horizon of the Milky Way's supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.  It is one of our best space photos.
In May 2022, the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration released this first image of the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.Telescope horizon collaboration event

Helen ThompsonIs it too blurry? says associate digital editor. yes. Isn’t it even For the first time we have photographed a black hole? Yes too. But it’s the black hole in our galaxy’s backyard, and we’ve never seen it before. There is something mind blowing and kind of heartwarming about seeing it for the first time. Event Horizon Telescope First image of bracket A* It may not be as pretty as James Webb’s phenomenal pics, however All the difficulties that accompany photographing black holes Especially this is The black hole makes it very convincing.

Gravitational lensing of quasar 2M1310-1714, taken in 2021

Quasar 2M1310-1714 can be seen as four light spots around the center of the light thanks to gravitational lensing.  It's a higher satellite image.
Thanks to gravitational lensing, predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity before it was even observed, quasar 2M1310-1714 appears as four points of light sitting on a ring around two bright galaxies.ESA, Hubble, NASA, T. Treu

Elizabeth Coyle, Special Projects Editor, says: Within the ring of light in the center of this image are a pair of distant galaxies and a quasar much further behind them. The mass of the galactic binary distorts the fabric of space-time, bending and amplifying the quasar’s light to form four separate quasar images, each sitting around the ring. It is an optically powerful example of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, which it was predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity before it is ever noticed.

The best space photo fascinates me every time. How incredible that the universe works this way. What an incredible thing the human mind, a diverse product of the universe, can predict. And not just expect it; Scientists today Use gravitational lens as a tool To study areas of space that are otherwise inaccessible. It’s fun and powerful at the same time.

Pale Blue Dot, taken in 1990

Earth appears as a faint point in a beam of light.  This is one of our best space photos.
NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft captured this time-lapse image of Earth after completing its tour of the solar system in 1990.NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Christopher Crockett, assistant news editor, says: My favorite space photo of all time isn’t of a colorful nebula, or a sparkling galaxy, or even a certain supermassive black hole. It is a single point, apparently hidden in a pillar of light.

After completing its tour of the solar system in 1990, NASA Voyager 1 He looked back and snapped a series of parting photos — a “family photo,” it was called — of the many planets orbiting our sun. One of the images that became known as pale blue dot imagecaptured the Earth as seen from nearly 6 billion kilometers away – the most distant image ever taken by anyone.

Updated with modern image processing software and re-released in 2020 (above), the image remains a reminder of why we’re exploring the universe. Yes, we want to better understand how space and time, stars, planets, galaxies and giant clusters work, because we’re curious. But all of these questions ultimately come down to trying to understand where we come from and how we fit in with our surroundings.

as such Carl Sagan Emphasize, nothing is better than seeing how small we are in the grand scheme of things than seeing our entire planet reduced to a mere speck of light.

When I used to give public lectures on astronomy, I always closed with this image. I usually read from Sagan’s musings on the subject:

“Look back at the point. This here. This house. This us. Everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being, has lived out their life…on a speck of dust suspended in a sunbeam… There is perhaps no better proof of the folly of human delusions than this distant picture of our little world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to be more kind to one another, to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.”

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