Big Desktop Images

I recently added a second video card to my Sun Blade 100 at work. The standard Solaris X server supports Xinerama, allowing me to create one big screen across two monitors, with a resolution of 2560x1024. Dual-head is getting to be more common, as both the Linux and Mac worlds also allow this merging of monitors. So I thought I'd share the images I use as desktop images, (or wallpaper, or backdrops, or backgrounds, or whatever you want to call them) and let you know where you can obtain more like them.

In memory of the crew of STS-107

NASA's contributions to the world far exceed the images I have placed here (and the millions of others they have taken). Their contributions to science have increased our understanding of the Universe and our place in it, and they have improved the quality of our lives thru the technological advances which surround us. But the most important contribution NASA has given the world must certainly be the inspiration, and the chance to dream a little more and dare a little more.

The crew of Columbia that left us on STS-107 understood all of this, and they gave their lives for this lofty purpose. I will be eternally grateful for their sacrifice, and deeply sad for their loss. Rick D. Husband, Kalpana Chawla, Pilot William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon represent the very best in humanity.

I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of the shuttle Columbia itself. Among its many successful missions, Columbia placed the Chandra X-Ray Telescope in orbit. My limited professional connection to that mission has deepened the impact of this tragedy for me personally. Images from that mission (STS-93), are among the images below.

Copyright information

It is my understanding that these images are all in the public domain, based on a general understanding of how NASA handles it's photos. I have NOT specifically checked each individual image to insure that it is not copyrighted, therefore I will NOT be held responsible for the accuracy of my guess regarding their copyright status. If you know that I'm wrong on any or all of these images, please let me know.

In the same spirit of openness that NASA has shown, I release any rights I may have with respect to the editing I have performed on these images. If the original images are in the public domain, then mine are too.

GRIN images

Well, these images might make you GRIN, but that's really an acronym for the GReat Images of Nasa archive. Most of the images I currently have came from here. There are truly some great and historic images here, and the best part is that they are freely available, and large enough to work with. I've barely scratched the surface of this archive.

None of the original images are the correct aspect ratio, these images have all been cropped to some degree. I've selected images that lended themselves to cropping for the wide screen, mostly just removing extra junk. In some cases however, the character of the picture was changed significantly, and I'll try to make note of that (except for the several times that footprints in the lunar dust were cropped out). There is a link to the original GRIN image in the description. Click on the image to download my 2560x1024 version.
F-16 model windtunnel F-16 model
WindTunnel test of F-16 Scamp model with laser illuminated smoke cross-sections.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, and chopped top and bottom. Do you really need to see more of the mounting bracket?
Image Quality: Good
Armstrong and flag on the Moon during Apollo 11 Armstrong on the Moon
Neil Armstrong during his first EVA on Apollo 11.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom
Image Quality: Good, somewhat grainy in portions
Charle M. Duke at Plum crater during Apollo 16 Duke on Plum crater
Charles M. Duke on the rim of Plum crater, Apollo 16
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom. A colorful camera lens effect was lost from the top.
Image Quality: Adequate (could be sharper)
lunar rover tracks leading to lunar module, Apollo 14 Tracks to Antares
LRV tire tracks leading to the Lunar Module, Apollo 14. This is one of my favorite Apollo photographs.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom. A big sunburst in the upper right was cropped out. This picture was better before I cropped it, but it's still good. Unfortunately it doesn't split well across two monitors, the LM gets broken apart as do the tracks.
Image Quality: Grainy
James B. Irwin next to lunar rover, Apollo 15 Irwin next to Rover
James B. Irwin next to the LRV in front of Mount Hadley, Apollo 15
Image Manipulation: The image lost something in cropping. I compromised and chopped both the top of the mountain and the bottom of the LRV. There is also a good shadow below the LRV that had to be cropped.
Image Quality: Good, except mountains are grainy
James B. Irwin loads rover, Apollo 15 Irwin loads rover
James B. Irwin loads equipment from the Lunar Module into the LRV; Apollo 15.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk and chopped top and bottom.
Image Quality: Very Good (for an Apollo photo)
Trampled lunar soil, Apollo 15 Trampled Lunar Soil
Trampled lunar soil trimmed from the bottom of the previous image. This makes for a backdrop thats less like a photo and more like a texture.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, and cropped most of the top, and a bit of the bottom.
Image Quality: Good
David R. Scott and lunar rover, Apollo 15 Scott on Hadley Delta
David R. Scott and the LRV during Apollo 15 moonwalk.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom
Image Quality: Adequate, but very washed out and fuzzy.
Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar rover, lunar landscape, Apollo 17 Lunarama (Lunar Panorama)
Harrison H. Schmitt at Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), Apollo 17
Image Manipulation: Shrunk and cropped space on top, moonscape on bottom. Cropping decreases emphasis on the Lunar expanse of rock and dust. Doesn't split well across two monitors.
Image Quality: Good, could use more contrast.
Two panoramas from Mars, Pathfinder and Viking 1 Mars Panoramas
The top half of the image is from Mars Pathfinder, and the bottom half is the first ever photo from the surface of Mars, taken by Viking 1.
Original (top):
Original (bottom):
Image Manipulation: Just shrunk to fit, nothing was cropped.
Image Quality: Top half, excellent; bottom half adequate.
Launch of shuttle Discovery, STS-31 STS-31 Launch
Space Shuttle Columbia waits its turn while Discovery lifts off on mission STS-31.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk and cropped top and bottom. The top of the closer launch pad is lost; so are trees and water at the bottom.
Image Quality: Adequate, somewhat grainy, many scratches and flaws from scanned photograph.
Launch of shuttle Atlantis, STS-66 STS-66 Launch
Atlantis lift-off for STS-66.
Image Manipulation: This image lost the best part off of the bottom. There is a huge flock of birds in the water, all scattering because of the launch. But cropping with the birds in looked bad to me -- most of the shuttle was missing. The shuttle and the solid rocket booster are neatly bisected by the two monitors, which works well, IMHO.
Image Quality: Adequate, scratches and flaws from scanned photograph.
Mark C. Lee durin an EVA, STS-64 Mark Lee Tetherless and Free
Mark C. Lee tests Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) system, during shuttle flight STS-64.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk and chopped the bottom.
Image Quality: Very Good
Carl J. Meade and Mark C. Lee test SAFER system SAFER Rescue System Tested
Astronauts Carl J. Meade and Mark C. Lee (red strip on suit) test the new Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) system some 130 nautical miles above Earth.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom. Lost some clouds on top, and most of the shuttle on the bottom.
Image Quality: Very Good
Hubble image of colliding galaxies Grazing Galaxies
Montage of three Hubble images showing NGC 2207 colliding with IC 2163. Am I crazy, or is this staring at me?
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom.
Image Quality: Very Good
Hubble image of Orion Nebula Orion Nebula
Gorgeous, very high resolution montage of 15 Hubble images of the Orion Nebula.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom. This whole image is great, I picked a strip across that middle that I thought had the most interesting features.
Image Quality: Outstanding
Hubble image of Orion Nebula Orion Nebula Again
Another Take on the previous image. This one seems to have better composition, and somehow the top looks like it belongs at the top (even though there is no "up" in space).
Image Manipulation: Rotated, shrunk, cropped top and bottom.
Image Quality: Outstanding

Chandra Images

This is the project I work (very indirectly) on. For those who don't know, the Chandra X-Ray telescope is in orbit, like the Hubble (but a much larger orbit -- it can't be serviced by the shuttle), and takes images in the X-Ray portion of the spectrum. X-Rays are only emitted by very high-energy processes, like the destruction that occurs around the edge of a black hole.

Chandra doesn't have the high resolution of Hubble (X-Ray imaging is just a "wee-bit" more complicated), so until there are more montages, most of this is photos from the shuttle mission that launched Chandra. Actually though, even Hubble images look bad scaled up to this size, and all of the Hubble images above are also montages.
Chandra X-Ray image of galactic center Galactic Center Survey
This is mosaic of several X-Ray images, which gives great resolution for a beautiful backdrop.
Original: (download the TIF file for the best raw image)
Image Manipulation: Shrunk slightly, and a bit of extra black border added at top and bottom.
Image Quality: Good (should be very good, but it suffers from JPEG artifacting, which is my fault, not the fault of the original - I'll redo it at some point).
Launch of shuttle Columbia, STS-93 Columbia About to Launch
The sparklers are ignited, but the engines haven't started. Rotated to fill the screen (duh).
Image Manipulation: Rotated 90 degrees clockwise, shrunk, and trimmed the (new) top, bottom, and right. Looks very different on its side. The launch tower was cut out.
Image Quality: Almost Very Good
Rotated image of Shuttle Columbia after take-off Columbia just after launch
Man does this look cool rotated on its side!
Image Manipulation: Rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise, shrunk, and cropped (new) top and bottom. Looks really different on its side.
Image Quality: Very grainy but not in a bad way, and a scratch.
Chandra X-Ray telescope ready for deployment from shuttle Chandra Ready to Deploy
The Chandra X-Ray telescope has been tilted up from the shuttle bay.
Image Manipulation: Rotated, shrunk, cropped. Lost a lot of the Earth and some of the shuttle.
Image Quality: Very Good but some graininess.
Shuttle Columbia glides in for night landing, STS-93 Columbia Gliding to Land
They started with a night launch. Why not top it off with a night landing?
Image Manipulation:Shrunk and cropped.
Image Quality: Very grainy. Very VERY grainy. In this case, grainy is actually the point.
Shuttle Columbia after landing, STS-93 Columbia Lands
Almost as grainy as the previous one.
Image Manipulation:Shrunk and cropped.
Image Quality: Very grainy in a good way (but not as grainy as the previous image).

Other Images

Images from various other locations.
Infrared image of Saturn from Hubble NICMOS Infrared Saturn
This (false color) infrared image was taken with Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).
Original: (halfway down the page)
Image Manipulation: Shrunk, cropped top and bottom.
Image Quality: Good (blurry, but good contrast, some striping presumably from NICMOS is visible)
Franklin R. Chang-Diaz during space station EVA, STS-111 Space Station EVA
Wonderfully sharp image of Franklin R. Chang-Diaz working on the space station during STS-111.
Image Manipulation: Cropped on all sides. Not shrunk at all.
Image Quality: Excellent, except that JPEG artifacts show in the area that is supposed to be blurry; again this is my fault and I should rework the image.
Space station over earth, taken during STS-111 Space Station
A big phallic symbol hovering over the earth, you get the idea. This image was taking during STS-111.
Image Manipulation: Shrunk ALOT and cropped top and bottom.
Image Quality: Very Good

Almost Live Satellite Photos

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) are in (you guessed it) geostationary orbits, and they regularly take pictures of a good portion of the earth. BIG pictures, in beautiful black and white. There are currently two GOES satellites that are operational, GOES-8 (aka GOES-East) at 75 West latitude, and GOES-10 (GOES-West) at 135 West latitude (there are also three more in orbit as spares, GOES-9, 11, and 12).

GOES-8 takes pictures closest to my part of the Earth, You can pick up recent (within the last fifteen or thirty minutes) GOES-8 images from, and similarly GOES-10 images from

There are four or five different standard images of different portions of the earth, you can write a script to parse them and figure out which ones have the area of interest for you. Or you can just grab any image over about 3 MB, which should be a full disk image of the earth.

I had a perl script for a single, 1280x1024 screen that would keep the most recent image of my neck of the woods on the screen. It broke, so when I fix it and modify it for the wide screen (to show the top half of the hemisphere across the two monitors), I'll put it here. In the meantime, get yourself hacking, or just grab one of the bigger images the next time there's a big pretty storm.

GOES-8 satellite image of Earth GOES-8 03-Sep-02 13:25
This is top half of the full disk of the earth taken by GOES-8 on September 3rd, 2002 at 13:25 EST.
Image Manipulation: No shrinking just cropped to fit.
Image Quality: Very Good.

You also might want to check out XPlanet, which has provisions for showing a very nice map of the earth, with up-to-date cloud information. A number of projections are available, some of which are appropriate for wide-screen displays.

Other sources of images

Send URLs of images -- both big raw images, and those pre-sized for jumbo displays.

2560x1024 images

  • 9X Media - Multi-screen backgrounds (these JPEGs didn't decode for me with old xv and old djpeg, but a newer djpeg was able to read them).
  • Introducing William - Backgrounds
  • Mark's 2560x1024 backgrounds

    Dual-Monitor Images in Other Sizes

  • Dual Monitor Wallpapers from
  • (members only).
  • Unreal Tournament Wallpapers

    Raw data sources

  • the GReat Images of Nasa archive.
  • The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
  • Hubble Heritage Project
  • National Space Science Data Center
  • NASA Human Spaceflight Gallery


  • Digital Orthophotos (Aerial photography used for mapmaking).
  • Scanned maps
  • Xinerama gets its name from Cinerama, a forgotten widescreen technology which uses three projectors and a big wide curved screen. High quality stills from the Cinerama Movies (if available) would be great for either dual-head or three-head setups.
  • Abel Gance's "Napoleon" (1927) was filmed for three projectors, (predating Cinerama) and would be great for three-head setups.

    Solaris and CDE Notes

    CDE can make it tough to set the background unless you want to convert things to Pixmap format and then use the CDE interface. I wrote a script that will paint most common image types onto the CDE backdrop. The script is available for download, along with additional information, on my "Setting the CDE Backdrop" page.

    XFree86 notes

    Some versions (perhaps 4.1.x?) of XFree86 don't correctly display wide images across all screens in Xinerama, instead they tile the first screen onto the rest. This should be fixed in 4.2.x and later releases. Read the previous section if you are seeing this same bug in Solaris.

    Please let me know if you have additional information or comments.

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