The 60 best space photos nasa, hubble, and more digital trends gas in back relief


Once Sputnik 1 was successfully hurled into orbit in 1957, spaceflight was no longer a mere pipe dream reserved for the pages of fiction. Shortly after the peculiar satellite’s stunning series of orbits, an entire planet watched as mankind, against all odds, set foot on the moon, marking the dawn of the spacefaring age — and leading to some of the best extraterrestrial photos to date. In the half century or so since these historic achievements, we have launched a vast array of instruments into outer space, allowing us to better understand our infinitesimal sliver in the infinite void of the cosmos.

Since then, space agencies around the globe have proposed bizarre missions to whet our curiosities in the name of science. While many of these far-out programs never left the launchpad — let alone the drawing board — plenty of pioneering probes have blasted through our atmosphere, through the outer reaches of our solar system, and, at least on one occasion, drifted into interstellar space. We have rendezvoused with asteroids, sailed through the rings of Saturn, and quite literally roved robotic marathons on the red planet. In pure 21st-century fashion, at least one of these rovers can’t seem to resist the occasional selfie.

While most of us will probably never escape Earth’s gravity, a joint partnership between the International Space Station (ISS) and Google recently unveiled an interactive Space View platform — a variation of the Google Street View program. It lets those of us who never fully achieved our childhood dream of becoming an astronaut virtually tour the ISS and even peer out at a panoramic Earth from the Cupola bay.

Luckily for us, some of the most sophisticated imaging technology ever is currently making its way through our solar system, transmitting breathtaking images of the final frontier back to Earth for our gawking pleasure. From the early, grainy images of the Martian surface sent from the Viking 1 lander to humanity’s first close-up of Pluto’s moon, these glimpses of our celestial neighbors and those light-years away fill us with a sense of wonder. So without further ado, here are 60 of the best space photos to help you put our Pale Blue Dot in perspective.

The New Horizons spacecraft captured this image of Pluto after a more than nine-year voyage to the dwarf planet. As part of the mission, the probe performed a six-month flyby reconnaissance study of the dwarf planet and its moons, including the closest approach of Pluto to date. This mission was a major success but the probe was far from finished faring the final frontier.

New Horizons was designed with extra hydrazine fuel onboard to investigate potential Kuiper belt objects (KBO) beyond Pluto if they were detected nearby. In 2014, three such KBOs were discovered all with possible flyby dates in late 2018 or in 2019 and last year, the craft received the green light to journey even farther into the Kuiper belt. The probe is now en route to an object known as ( 486958) 2014 MU69 and — seeing as this series of numbers and letters isn’t the most communicable of names — NASA has enlisted mankind to come up with an alternate monicker. Those so-inclined have until December 1 to nominate and vote on other potential names via the New Horizons website.

In 2003, NASA launched the twin robotic geologists Spirit and Opportunity, and the following January the two rovers landed on opposite sides of Mars. Opportunity landed in the flat plain known as Meridiani Planum searching for evidence of Martian water. The golf cart-sized craft snapped this photo of the landing site clearly showing the conical outer hull of the shattered heat shield on the left and the physical impact site on the far right. Samples collected at the location determined the area was once the shoreline of a salty Martian sea.

While mission control lost contact with Spirit in 2010, Opportunity is still roving the Red Planet today, exceeding its original 90-day mission timeline by more than a decade. In 2015, the rover set the record for greatest extraterrestrial ground distance traveled breaking the previous record of 24.2 miles set by the Russian Lunokhod 2 rover. Currently surveying Perseverance Valley, Opportunity’s has now logged nearly 28 miles and is showing no signs of stopping.

The Magellan probe took this photo of the second rock from the sun, Venus, in the ’90s. However, Magellan was not the first craft to attempt to unlock the planet’s many mysteries. Venus is one of the most inhospitable bodies in our solar system. The atmosphere is made predominantly of carbon dioxide, with thick clouds of sulfuric acid and a surface strewn with volcanoes and vast plains of lava. Moreover, the atmospheric pressure on the planet is enough to crush a human and the surface temperature — at nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit — is more than capable of melting lead.

Needless to say, designing a craft that’s capable of both landing and withstanding such conditions is no easy feat. Nonetheless, in the ’70s and ’80s, the Soviet Union set out to do just that with the Venera missions. In 1975, Venera 9 successfully landed in operational condition, snapping the first 180-degree image of the Venusian surface. Venera 10 similarly touched down on the inhospitable planet and transmitted data back to Earth for roughly an hour. You can check out some of these stunning — albeit grainy — mission images here.