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Wikipedia has this photo (see below) labelled "First photo from space" which was taken in 1946 from a U.S. launched German V-2 rocket. Approximately two thirds of the image is a section of the Earth showing some clouds and their shadows. The photo is very grainy so it's hard to see much more detail than this (I can't make out any land masses as all).

In the large black section occupying the top-left corner there are some very faint dots. Are these dirt on the lens, marks on the film, JPG artifacts or are they actually stars?

The first photo from space

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  • $\begingroup$ I just reminded myself of the 6 black holes from Red Dwarf! $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis Dec 10 '14 at 2:31
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I really doubt it. (Note: I'm answering this more as a photographer than an astronomer)

From this vantage point, Earth is far brighter than any stars you would see beyond it (save the Sun). When you set a camera to expose Earth, if you set it such that you can expose Earth without blowing out the details you need to set the camera accordingly. This, however, would mean that it's unlikely the camera settings would be sensitive enough to also get stars. As we can see rough details of the atmosphere in your photo (Despite the grain), it would suggest that the exposure settings would not be sensitive enough to depict stars.

For example, here is a photo of Jupiter:Jupiter

There are a few things to note here:

  1. Jupiter is entirely blown out. It's over exposed and you can't see any details of the planet.
  2. You can see several moons. If you properly expose Jupiter, you generally won't also get the moons, because your camera settings won't be sensitive enough to pick them up. (at one time I had a more properly exposed photo that lacks the moons. Apologies, I'm not sure where it's gone off to)
  3. You aren't seeing any stars in the background. Again, the exposure settings to pick up the moon are too sensitive to properly expose Jupiter, but not sensitive enough to pick up the stars behind it. (A brighter star, had it been in the frame would be visible in the photo, but there are certainly some stars that were in a shot this wide. Regardless, there are stars far brighter than the Galilean moons, so this isn't a particularly solid point)

There is certainly something in the photo. Judging by the amount of grain in the photo and by the fact that JPG images will always contain some artifacts it would seem more likely that what you're seeing is the affect of noise or artifacts. Dirt on the lens is unlikely - this usually doesn't show up as specks in the final photo, as this is before the light has not been distributed yet. You see dust if it's on the lens exit or between the lens and the sensor, but in that situation you're going to see it generally reducing light from the final image.

This answer may change if, by chance, the photo was taken when it was night on Earth. However, this seems unlikely for an early rocket launch and certainly for a first attempt at a photo of Earth from space.

As this is really more about analyzing a photograph than astronomy, if you want to probe further you may want to inquire in Photography.SE.

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  • $\begingroup$ That was exactly my gut feeling. Now I wonder what they are... Twinkle twinkle little non-star... $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis Dec 10 '14 at 3:54
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Newsreel video, put together from the camera footage at the time shows several persistent white spots towards the top left of the camera frame. You can see them moving with the frame as the camera pans through the blackness of space, and later even against the limb of the earth. If there are any stars visible in the original linked image,they are no brighter than any of several obvious pointlike lens artifacts. I don't know what the smudgy objects are, but doubt that they're comets or the clouds of Magellan, as seen from New Mexico. There were no bright comets in 1946.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see the "persistent white spots" except when they stop on the final image for a few seconds. The article is slightly inaccurate, it wasn't a 35mm television camera but a still camera shooting only 1 image every 1.5 seconds. The images were later painstakingly assembled into film footage. Judging by the random speckles on the other frames it looks like these marks are simply imperfections in either the original images or the newsreel film they were copied to. $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis Dec 10 '14 at 23:37

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