When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut and travel into space (then I grew up and realized how much math is involved, and quickly changed my mind). Something about the unknown, the colors, the mystery and the sheer magnitude always drew me in — it still does. Space never ceases to blow my mind and take my breath away, whether I’m watching the sun set, the moon rise, or wishing on a shooting star. But there is so much more to space that most of us can comprehend. Astrophotography has not only created beautiful works of art, but it has had an astronomical impact on space research. By using long exposures (and we mean loooooooong exposures), cameras are able to photograph dim stars, nebulae and galaxies that are usually invisible to the human eye. To celebrate National Space Day, here are some of the most other-worldly (literally) photographs taken by NASA.

Pillars of Creation

Likely one of the most iconic images ever taken with the Hubble Telescope, this photograph of the Pillars of Creation was taken on April 1, 1995. Leave it to cosmic dust and the colorful glow of gas clouds to take our breath away.

The Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation - NASA Space Pictures
The Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The Crab Nebula

Composed from 24 individual exposures, this is one of the largest images ever taken by the Hubble Telescope. The remnants of this supernova explosion span six light-years (and if you can wrap your head around that, you’re several steps ahead of me).

Crab Nebula Hubble Telescope - NASA Space Pictures
Crab Nebula. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Jupiter’s Storm

There are many things to love about Jupiter: it’s massive (and I mean massive — 1,321 Earths could fit inside of it!), it has 16 moons (how romantic!), and its storm, the Great Red Spot, looks like it might as well be an Edvard Munch painting hanging in the MoMA. You can see the storm — practically a giant hurricane — on the bottom right in the first picture. The storm itself is more than twice the size of Earth, with winds reaching up to 270 miles an hour. Think about that next time you complain that it’s raining outside…

Jupiter and the Great Red Spot - NASA Space Pictures
Jupiter and the Great Red Spot. Photo courtesy of NASA.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter - NASA Space Pictures
The Great Red Spot. Photo courtesy of NASA.


Taken in early 2015, this photograph is a cropping of the largest picture ever released by the Hubble. It contains over 100 million stars, thousands of star clusters, and 1.5 billion pixels. To view the entire image, you would need over 600 HD TVs. But what’s even more breathtaking than that is that the light we’re seeing from these stars was actually 2.54 million years ago. Try peppering that into your next late-night existential star-gazing conversation!

Andromeda by the Hubble Telescope - NASA Space Images
Andromeda. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Earth and Moon

While this photograph might not seem as impressive as some of the others, it was the first ever long-distance picture of both the Earth and moon together, taken in 1977, a couple weeks after Voyager 1 launched on its way to Jupiter.

Earth and Moon - NASA Space Photos
Earth and moon. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Nebula in Orion

Sometimes space looks like a really dreamy place. Using Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, the Heritage astronomers were able to capture this color image just weeks after the Hubble Space Telescope was repaired in 1999.

A Reflection Nebula in Orion - NASA Space Photos
A Reflection Nebula in Orion. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Rings of Saturn

Saturn has always been one of my favorite planets. I like to think that the rings, made up of chunks of ice and dust, inspired one of Beyonce’s greatest lyrics, “If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it.” Well, someone liked Saturn a whole lot (and we don’t blame them).

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Saturn - NASA Space Images
Saturn. Photo courtesy of NASA.
Rings of Saturn - NASA Space Images
Rings of Saturn. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The Antennae Galaxies

Galaxies making love, not war. This photograph depicts the merging of the Antennae Galaxies. As these two galaxies collide and combine, billions of new stars are born.

Antennae Galaxies Merging - NASA Space Photos
Antennae Galaxies. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Messier 17

While this image looks like a renaissance depiction of a raging sea, it’s actually a bubbling ocean of hydrogen, oxygen and sulphuric gas in the molecular nebula Messier 17. Also known as the Omega or Swan Nebula, it is a hotbed for star births 5,500 light years away in the Sagittarius constellation. Red corresponds to sulphur, green represents hydrogen, and blue is good ol’ oxygen emission. This is color by number on a whole new level!

Messier 17 - NASA Space Images
Messier 17. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Horsehead Nebula

With a shape that resembles a giant seahorse, the Horsehead Nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the sky. It’s basically the Kim Kardashian of space. Radiation from this hot star is eroding the stellar nursery, whatever that means.

The Horsehead Nebula - NASA Space Pictures
The Horsehead Nebula. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Globular Clusters

47 Tucanae, part of the Toucan constellation in the southern sky, is one of the brightest globular clusters, comprised of hundred of thousands of stars that are held together by their mutual gravitation attraction. To the naked eye, this cluster would look like a teeny tiny star in the night sky, but it is anything but. The easily-visible red giants are stars with a similar mass to our own sun that are nearing the end of their life. The dimmer stars — the dying ones — migrate away from the bright center. It wasn’t until they discovered 47 Tucanae that astronomers saw this process in action.

Stellar Swarm - NASA Images
Globular Cluster. Photo courtesy of NASA.
47 Tucanae - NASA Images
47 Tucanae. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The Carina Nebula

These photographs are of the tempestuous Carina Nebula, 7,500 light-years away from us. It’s hard to understand what creates these fantasy landscapes: this image is comprised of dust and gas, fast winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the monster stars. The first photograph shows only the tip of a pillar that is three light-years long. Massive stars with streams of charged particles are causing new stars to form within this pillar (don’t ask me to explain this in more detail).

Carina Nebula - NASA Images
Carina Nebula 2. Photo courtesy of Nasa.
Carina Nebula - NASA Images
Carina Nebula. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The Eagle Nebula

This soaring tower of gas and dust spans 9.5 light-years. Or, to put this in terms we can understand, it’s about 90 trillion kilometers high. That’s twice the distance from our sun to the next nearest star. This tower, rising out of a stellar nursery known as the Eagle Nebula, is a huge incubator for newborn stars.

The Eagle Nebula - NASA Space Photos
The Eagle Nebula. Photo courtesy of NASA,

But nothing — not billowing pillars or colliding galaxies, nebulas or globular clusters — takes my breath away quite like home. This photo of our dear planet was taken from Apollo 17, and it reminds me that we live on a little blue dot, orbiting through infinite space, and we are all in this together.

Planet Earth Photo from Apollo 17 - NASA Images
Planet Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA.

While many phenomena in our galaxy are invisible to the naked eye, we know some of you have what it takes to create spectacular interstellar photographs using the PicsArt photo editor. Grab a space shot from our @freetoedit account and show us your best edits with the hashtag #OutOfThisWorld!


Danny Rothschild is a writer, photographer, and graphic designer currently living and loving in Tuscany.