My Favorite Astronomy Photos

Saturn Rings

Photo of Saturn snapped by Voyager 2 space probe. I was seeing Saturn at about the same angle tonight, but very, VERY tiny (and less detail; I couldn't see stripes, only the rings.)
Photo of Saturn snapped by Voyager 2 space probe. I was seeing Saturn at about the same angle tonight, but very, VERY tiny (and less detail; I couldn't see stripes, only the rings.) | Source

Heavenly Pictures

Tonight, I stepped out with my old Televue 2.4" telescope and viewed a sight that Earth observers don't get to see very often: Saturn's rings tipped all the way towards us, so that the main gap in them is just visible.

As a daughter of a rocket scientist and granddaughter of a planetarium director, I've always enjoyed the space program and astronomy without having to know all the nitty-gritty details of engineering and math.

I'd like to share with you some of the beautiful photographs that have enchanted me over the years since I was a child, following the space program in the way that some children follow movie stars and favorite athletes. (Even if I did complain to Dad at about age 6 that it was totally unfair I'd been born "after the space age," lamenting the fact that the Apollo program had just ended. Skylab wasn't getting media attention then any more than the International Space Station is now.)

I picked these photos mostly for their stunning beauty, but many are also connected to amazing discoveries that remind us just how miraculous, vast and strange the heavens are. There are no angels or harps that we can see, but miracles and wonders abound.


Note: Click photos to view large-sized images.

Saturn From Behind, Eclipsing the Sun (This really IS a photo!)

The backside of Saturn, eclipsing the sun. The reflection of sunlight off the rings is so bright that it illuminates the planet's night side. Above the main rings on the left is a tiny blue dot (as Carl Sagan called it): Earth.
The backside of Saturn, eclipsing the sun. The reflection of sunlight off the rings is so bright that it illuminates the planet's night side. Above the main rings on the left is a tiny blue dot (as Carl Sagan called it): Earth. | Source

Spiral Galaxy M74, A Beautiful Vortex of Billions of Stars

Just a pretty galaxy. It looks to me like an ammonite (fossil spiral-shelled sea creature). Some patterns repeat in nature, thanks to mathematics and fractals.
Just a pretty galaxy. It looks to me like an ammonite (fossil spiral-shelled sea creature). Some patterns repeat in nature, thanks to mathematics and fractals. | Source

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Hits Jupiter

One of the most spectacular images of the fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 striking Jupiter. That fireball is bigger than Earth.
One of the most spectacular images of the fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 striking Jupiter. That fireball is bigger than Earth. | Source

The Great Comet of 1994

In July 1994, the web was in its infancy. NCSA Mosaic was the first real web browser, and could display text, images, links and lists. That's it.

The baby web was about to get a workout. Just as the web was coalescing like a virtual solar system on Earth, astronomers Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy discovered a new comet in the heavens. And not just any comet. This one looked like "pearls on a string." A close encounter with Jupiter's powerful gravity on a previous pass had broken it into pieces which were still following the same orbit, gradually spreading out in a line. A line headed ... straight for Jupiter.

The world of astronomy waited tensely. Would they see anything? Jupiter was HUGE. A comet is mostly dust and ice, with only a little primordial rock. And Jupiter is a gas giant, not solid. Many guessed that the comet fragments would plunge into Jupiter like ball bearings falling into a tub of cotton candy: no impact, no nothing. But every telescope on Earth -- and the brand-new Hubble, and even Voyager, sailing out of the solar system -- turned its eyes towards Jupiter, just in case.

For one glorious week in July, we saw fireworks. The explosions were colossal. The fireballs from some of the impacts were five times larger than Earth! And every astronomer on the planet was uploading their photos as fast as they could, sharing data, staring in awe.

I wasn't an astronomer. But every night I'd scour the infant web -- there were no search engines yet, no social media, no blogs, no Twitter -- following the links from one astronomer's website to the next and the next, bookmarking pages so I could find them again. It was a turning point for astronomy AND the web, the first time the internet was used to connect people almost in realtime as a major event unfolded.

Get a glimpse of these photos -- and what the web was like back then -- on JPL's old Shoemaker-Levy 9 Page.

Eagle Nebula (M16) - the "Pillars of Creation"

This justly famous photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows enormous clouds of dense gas in a giant nebula being slowly eroded away by solar winds from hot young stars.
This justly famous photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows enormous clouds of dense gas in a giant nebula being slowly eroded away by solar winds from hot young stars. | Source

The Planet Neptune, a Blue Gas Giant

When I was a kid, I was allowed to stay up late and watch the pictures from Voyager come in. It gave us the first detailed images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. So far, it's the only space probe to visit the latter two planets.
When I was a kid, I was allowed to stay up late and watch the pictures from Voyager come in. It gave us the first detailed images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. So far, it's the only space probe to visit the latter two planets. | Source

Dusty Sky Over Victoria Crater on Mars

It's hard to believe our little Mars rovers have been robotically exploring Mars since 2008. Opportunity finally died, but it lasted 5 years past the end of its planned mission, surviving harsh Martian winters.
It's hard to believe our little Mars rovers have been robotically exploring Mars since 2008. Opportunity finally died, but it lasted 5 years past the end of its planned mission, surviving harsh Martian winters. | Source

When Galaxies Collide: A Hubble Gallery

A collage of different intergalactic collisions imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope over the years. Someday, our own Milky Way Galaxy will crash into Andromeda! We've got a few billion years before we have to worry, though.
A collage of different intergalactic collisions imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope over the years. Someday, our own Milky Way Galaxy will crash into Andromeda! We've got a few billion years before we have to worry, though. | Source

The classic "Earthrise" Photo

The classic shot of the Earth rising around the limb of the moon as Apollo 8 circled Earth's silent sister. Taken by astronaut Bill Anders.
The classic shot of the Earth rising around the limb of the moon as Apollo 8 circled Earth's silent sister. Taken by astronaut Bill Anders. | Source

Omega Nebula, A Nursery of Stars

Glowing hydrogen gas and other elements in a massive nebula, the exploded remnants of an ancient star coalescing into new stars and solar systems.
Glowing hydrogen gas and other elements in a massive nebula, the exploded remnants of an ancient star coalescing into new stars and solar systems. | Source

The Andromeda Galaxy, the Kid Next Door

The Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest intergalactic neighbor, is 2.6 million light years away... and closing! We've got 4.5 billion years to get ready.
The Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest intergalactic neighbor, is 2.6 million light years away... and closing! We've got 4.5 billion years to get ready. | Source

Io, Volcanic Moon of Jupiter, a Big Rotten Egg

Before Voyager, we knew Mars had dead volcanoes, but nobody knew there were volcanoes on other bodies in the solar system. There was a lot of whooping at Mission Control when Voyager sent back the first photo of an erupting sulfur volcano on Io!
Before Voyager, we knew Mars had dead volcanoes, but nobody knew there were volcanoes on other bodies in the solar system. There was a lot of whooping at Mission Control when Voyager sent back the first photo of an erupting sulfur volcano on Io! | Source

The Moon Io in Front of Jupiter's Clouds

Io is about the same size as our moon, but Jupiter is so massive that you could snuggle four Earths inside its Great Red Spot, a tornado that's been going since Gallileo first spotted it.
Io is about the same size as our moon, but Jupiter is so massive that you could snuggle four Earths inside its Great Red Spot, a tornado that's been going since Gallileo first spotted it. | Source

Mars Atmosphere and a Smiling Crater

A seldom-seen photo snapped during the Viking mission to Mars in the 70s.
A seldom-seen photo snapped during the Viking mission to Mars in the 70s. | Source

Barred Galaxy NGC 1300, Belt Buckle in Space

I loved drawing barred galaxies when I was a kid: a half spiral, a bar, and another half spiral, like an intergalactic belt buckle. Thanks to Hubble, we can finally get a better idea what we're seeing.
I loved drawing barred galaxies when I was a kid: a half spiral, a bar, and another half spiral, like an intergalactic belt buckle. Thanks to Hubble, we can finally get a better idea what we're seeing. | Source

The Crab Nebula: Death Throes of a Star

The crab nebula in Taurus is a new nebula formed from a star that went supernova (exploded). The nova was spotted as a huge bright star by Chinese, Japanese and Arab astronomers in 1054 AD.
The crab nebula in Taurus is a new nebula formed from a star that went supernova (exploded). The nova was spotted as a huge bright star by Chinese, Japanese and Arab astronomers in 1054 AD. | Source

Apollo 12 Landing Site Seen by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2012

When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returned to the moon in 2009, it was supposed to be looking for new things, but it also snapped many photos of the old moon lander sites, showing tracks, equipment, buggies and landing gear left behind.
When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returned to the moon in 2009, it was supposed to be looking for new things, but it also snapped many photos of the old moon lander sites, showing tracks, equipment, buggies and landing gear left behind. | Source

Solar System Sizes Compared

A photographic comparison of major bodies in the solar system. Poor Pluto had to be demoted from "planet" to "dwarf planet" because astronomers keep finding small bodies about the same size or even larger!
A photographic comparison of major bodies in the solar system. Poor Pluto had to be demoted from "planet" to "dwarf planet" because astronomers keep finding small bodies about the same size or even larger! | Source

Comet Hale-Bopp

My Joshua Tree photo of Comet Hale-Bopp.
My Joshua Tree photo of Comet Hale-Bopp. | Source

My Own (Not So Great) Photo

The gorgeous Comet Hale-Bopp was seen by almost everybody in 1997. It's very, very unusual for a comet to be so close it's visible, let alone for it to appear in the sky month after month!

I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park in the spring of 1997 to see it for myself. This isn't a great photo, but it is HARD to take astronomy photos without real equipment! I put my camera on a tripod, set the timer to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds (this was before digital cameras), and waited for about half an hour for a car to pass in the distance. The headlights cast just enough light to illuminate the Joshua Trees in front of me.

In addition to Hale-Bopp, you can dimly see the Pleiades on the left.

I scanned this with one of the earliest color scanners. At the time, this photo filled almost the entire screen of the computer I was using: a 640x480 monitor. I need to find the original photo, rescan it, and darken the background in Photoshop.

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Comments 11 comments

ChrisMyth profile image

ChrisMyth 4 years ago from Scotland

You really are a great writer and almost everything you write about I absolutely love. Brilliant Hub, great pictures. Thanks for sharing your work with us once again greekgeek!


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Great Hub with great photographs. Useful for those interested in astronomy. Voted up and shared.


ramurray3 profile image

ramurray3 4 years ago from New York City

Beautiful and amazing pictures


sandrabusby profile image

sandrabusby 4 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

Ditto ChrisMyth. I'm sending these photos to my 10-year-old grandson who is currently passionate about two things: the space program and becoming a magician. Thank.


OneYearLater profile image

OneYearLater 4 years ago

Woah... I want to go to there.


Greekgeek profile image

Greekgeek 4 years ago from California Author

We're there! All that big huge stuff is out there, beyond our front door, if we go far enough.

sandra: good for your grandson; those are great passions to have!


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

I've viewed several of your pages in the past Greekgeek, but I had not realised the extent of your interest in Astronomy, or what an enviable family association you have with the subject of space exploration!

Of the images, many are familiar to me, but some are new. The Omega Nebula and the various galaxies are all such good photographs. And any image which shows details of a planetary surface such as the Victoria Crater is really interesting. Best of all, the Crab Nebula is particularly stunning - it looks exactly like what it is - a massive explosion. And it's nice to see your own work too. I've never yet taken a photo of a comet, myself - my only efforts have been of total and partial eclipses of the Sun.

We are fortunate, I think Greekgeek, to be the first generation to live at a time when some of these sights are being revealed to us. I hope your presentation of these sights encourages someone somewhere to develop an interest in astronomy.


Greekgeek profile image

Greekgeek 4 years ago from California Author

Thank you! We most definitely are.

For me, it's more mythology than science. I look up at the sky and hear Carl Sagan's mellifluous tones in my head, spinning me stories about what I see (unfortunately I watched Cosmos more often than I got to see my grandmother's shows, since we lived far away.) I am so grateful to the pioneers, scientists, engineers and explorers who are expanding our horizions and introducing us to wonders despite budget-conscious governments saying, "We don't have time for this."

And of course, on the practical side, so many wonderful inventions have come out of the space program, from GPS to scratch-resistent glasses to memory foam beds. Even if, as Werner von Braun infamously put it, we sometimes "reach for the stars and hit London." (Not all technological developments are put to good use, alas.)


seekingpeace91 profile image

seekingpeace91 4 years ago

Wow. These photos are so beautiful! Really hard to believe that some of them are actual photos! Voted up and everything else!


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire

Greek, these are breathtaking. And I'm with you, I love to watch comets and other night sky events when I can. Your photos remind me of the planetarium shows we went to on field trips when I was a kid.

Up and beautiful!


Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 21 months ago from Manila, Philippines

Amazing photos! The study of the heavenly bodies has always intrigued me. Thanks for sharing.

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