I have never been in space. At least any more than I am always in space because it is something that we, and the atmosphere, are all inside of.
Space, I am in you.
But getting back to the point. The cheapest, retro web designed section of the NASA website, gives us our answer.
The answer is that the whole thing is a myth, perpetuated by the weirdnesses of photography., and then presumably perpetuated by people trying to be clever.
With the human eye, much as you’d expect, stars are much brighter when viewed from outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The twinkling effect disappears as well (though presumably, the illusion where they appear to be moving is still in effect, that’s just a thing the brain does with dots of light in complete darkness, without other points of reference). Basically, the atmosphere of the Earth does fuzz things a little, and complicated adjustments (or a law of averages ‘luck’ approach) have to be used to get clear readings on where faint stars and other objects are.
Out in space, everything is crystal, because there is no atmosphere to get in the way (and little in the way of light pollution), so everything is clearer and brighter, and the stars are, apparently beautiful.
So why do we not seem them in photos? Why does that lead loads of other people to believe that to accurately represent space, it just needs a black void? (I noticed this recently for the first time when one of my web comics had a space scene, and in the text below the artist apologised for including stars when he knew it wasn’t right. This was the first time I’d heard of this phenomena and it sounded unlikely, but who am I to argue with web comic artists? The answer is: I am fueled by google searches and NASA.)
Anyway. I can’t explain this any better than the link I’ve already given you, but basically, whenever you see photos in space, they are normally of something much nearer and brighter than stars. We normally take pictures of things with some kind of interest, like the Sun, or the Moon, or the Earth, or the astronaut, or the shuttle, or a space station, or whatever.
Those things are so much closer than the stars, and therefore so much brighter, that as the camera gets the right exposure to take them, it drops the stars in the background out of the picture.
We don’t see the stars because the other things are brighter. The human eye has no such exposure problems, it’s really clever like that.
So it’s just a trick of the light, essentially. Cameras aren’t accurate readers of information.
For the web comic artiste, and anyone else wanting to represent space. Be aware to only paint it black if you are trying to suggest that your point of view is mechanical.
And it’s handy. Because I reckon space would freak me out if it was any emptier.
Illustration by Helen
And re-illustrated under instruction from Alex, again, by Helen: