Space Images From NASA and Beyond Make Star Wars Feel Very Real

Celebrate Star Wars on May the Fourth (or any day) with spectacular space images that bring the sci-fi universe to life.

Amanda Kooser
1 of 18 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn's Death Star moon

Star Wars might be science fiction, but at times, the universe of Luke Skywalker and General Leia crosses over into our own reality. These real space images and places 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.

Hubble lightsaber
2 of 18 NASA/ESA/D. Padgett (GSFC)/T. Megeath (U. Toledo)/B. Reipurth (U. Hawaii)

Hubble spots double lightsaber

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.

3 of 18 NASA/Joel Kowsky

Is that a TIE fighter crossing the sun?

The International Space Station transited the sun on June 24, 2020 in this stunning composite image. But look closer and you'll see a distinct resemblance to a TIE fighter. The ISS solar panel arrays give it a very Star Wars look when it's seen in silhouette from a distance.

4 of 18 SpaceX

SpaceX takes Baby Yoda to orbit

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.  

SpaceX shared this glamor shot of the Yoda toy on May 4, 2021.

5 of 18 KIS

Sunspot or sarlacc pit?

The Gregor solar telescope in Spain released a high-res, close-up view of an incredible sunspot in late 2020 that looked a bit like the toothy void of a Star Wars sarlacc pit. A hungry sarlacc was a personal favorite pet of Jabba the Hutt.

6 of 18 NASA/JPL/UArizona

Scientists joke about Mars sarlacc pit

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.

7 of 18 Lucasfilm

Smithsonian has an X-wing

A full-size X-wing starfighter sits in the restoration hangar at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The fictional spacecraft -- built for the 2019 film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker -- isn't flightworthy, but it is viewable by the public while it undergoes preservation work. The X-wing is destined to move to the museum's facility on the National Mall in Washington DC in late 2022.

8 of 18 NRAO

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.

9 of 18 Ivan Vagner/Roscosmos

Crocheted Yoda in space

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."

10 of 18 Alexander Gerst/ESA

ISS Halloween costumes

Elvis, Darth Vader and a mad scientist took over the International Space Station for Halloween in 2018. Cosplaying astronauts had some fun playing dress up. It shows these real-life explorers are just as into Star Wars as the fans back on Earth.

11 of 18 NASA

NASA Jedi astronauts

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.

12 of 18 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.

13 of 18 NASA

TIE fighter on the ISS

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.

14 of 18 Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Tatooine seen from space

NASA's Earth Observatory team shared this satellite view of the fishing town of Ajim on the Tunisian island of Djerba in 2020. This was a famous Star Wars filming location for the Mos Eisley cantina on the desert planet Tatooine. The Landsat 8 satellite gave us a far-off look at the filming spots, which NASA pointed out in the annotated image.

15 of 18 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars helicopter foot looks like the Death Star

This is an image of Mars snapped by NASA's Ingenuity helicopter in 2021. When NASA JPL shared it on Twitter, at least one fan caught sight of the strange-looking object on the far left and wanted to know if the Death Star had made an appearance on the red planet. It's an amusing thought, but JPL came back with a deadpan response: "No Death Star there. It's actually Ingenuity's foot."

16 of 18 Lynette Cook

Real Tatooine

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.

17 of 18 NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

A real Hoth

Ice planet OGLE-2005-BLG-390 is a real place that NASA scientists nicknamed "Hoth" in honor of the famously cold and snowy planet from Star Wars. Researchers estimate the surface temperature  at minus 364 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 220 Celsius). You'd need a whole lot of tauntauns to survive that kind of cold.

This illustration shows what the planet might look like.

18 of 18 NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Ultima Thule has a BB-8 shape

When NASA's New Horizons mission checked out two-lobed space object Ultima Thule in early 2019, it sent back some views that triggered imaginative comparisons. Some people thought it looked like a snowman, but Star Wars fans had the right answer: It resembled lovable droid BB-8.

The image shows three views of Ultima Thule. The left image is color-enhanced. The center is a higher-resolution image. The image on the right combines the two to give us a clearer view in color.

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