Star Wars might be science fiction, but at times, the universe of Luke Skywalker and General Leia crosses over into the reality of our own. These real space images and places will bring the galaxy far, far away a little closer to home.
NASA's Saturn-studying Cassini spacecraft sent back plenty of great views of the ringed planet and its moons. This striking view of the moon Mimas shows how the rocky satellite earned its nickname of the "Death Star moon."
The image comes from late 2016. Mimas is 246 miles (396 kilometers) in diameter. The large round crater makes it resemble the Death Star with its concave dish. Darth Vader would give this moon a double-take if he saw it out there in space.
To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, NASA released a Hubble Space Telescope image of a formation it described as a "cosmic, double-bladed lightsaber" with a "Jedi-like cloak of dust" near the center. Actually, a baby star is blasting out twin jets, but the cosmic lightsaber is a fabulously fantastical image.
Members of the SpaceX Crew-1 mission launched to the International Space Station in late 2020, and they didn't go alone. The four astronauts took along a tiny Baby Yoda to use as an indicator of when they reached microgravity after launch. The floating Grogu was an adorable addition to the pioneering crew.
The sun isn't the only place that resembles a sarlacc pit. This NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image from 2015 shows a pit with a rocky-looking bottom. "No sarlacc here, we think," the HiRise camera team tweeted. This was the perfect image for a Star Wars joke. No aliens were found.
TIE fighter galaxy
NASA knows its Star Wars references. The space agency shared research on active galaxy TXS 0128+554 in August 2020, referring to it as looking like a TIE fighter. The angle of the galaxy as seen from Earth makes it look like one of the infamous Imperial spacecraft.
The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio antenna network viewed TXS 0128+554 at 15.4 gigahertz, which made its TIE fighter shape pop out.
For May the 4th in 2020, Roscosmos cosmonaut Ivan Vagner shared this delightful image of a crocheted Yoda talisman floating on the International Space Station. Vagner's wife made the mini-Yoda as a way to help remind the cosmonaut of family and Earth, and, of course, the famous saying "May the Force be with you."
The Force has long been strong with NASA. In 2015, the space agency released a delightfully geeky Star Wars-themed poster for the Expedition 45 mission on the International Space Station. It showed each member dressed in Jedi robes and wielding a lightsaber. The crew featured NASA astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut, showing just how international Star Wars truly is.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET
Mars rover spots Jabba rock
NASA's Curiosity rover snapped a Martian landscape image in March 2018 that showed a pretty normal collection of rocks scattered around the ground. A UFO enthusiast, however, noticed one of them looked a bit like Jabba the Hutt's head. It takes a bit imagination to get there, but it's fun once you do.
NASA astronaut and Star Wars fan Kjell Lindgren shared an image of himself posed in the multi-windowed cupola section of the International Space Station in 2015. "Just taking the TIE fighter for a spin," Lindgren tweeted, in a nod to the resemblance between the cupola and the cockpit of the fictional fighter spacecraft.
Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey
The planet of Tatooine is famous as Luke Skywalker's home, and also for its two suns. There are real planets like it out there in the universe. This artist's concept shows Kepler-1647b, which is in a system with a secondary star transiting a primary star.
As of mid-2016, Kepler-1647b was one of the largest "circumbinary planets" ever found. It was spotted in data collected by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.