This overview paper describes the legacy prospect and discovery potential of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) beyond cosmological studies, illustrating it with examples from the DES early data. DES is using a wide-field camera (DECam) on the 4 m Blanco Telescope in Chile to image 5000 sq deg of the sky in five filters ( grizY ). By its completion, the survey is expected to have generated a catalogue of 300 million galaxies with photometric redshifts and 100 million stars. In addition, a time-domain survey search over 27 sq deg is expected to yield a sample of thousands of Type Ia supernovae and other transients. The main goals of DES are to characterize dark energy and dark matter, and to test alternative models of gravity; these goals will be pursued by studying large-scale structure, cluster counts, weak gravitational lensing and Type Ia supernovae. However, DES also provides a rich data set which allows us to study many other aspects of astrophysics. In this paper, we focus on additional science with DES, emphasizing areas where the survey makes a difference with respect to other current surveys. The paper illustrates, using early data (from ‘Science Verification’, and from the first, second and third seasons of observations), what DES can tell us about the Solar system, the Milky Way, galaxy evolution, quasars and other topics. In addition, we show that if the cosmological model is assumed to be +cold dark matter, then important astrophysics can be deduced from the primary DES probes. Highlights from DES early data include the discovery of 34 trans-Neptunian objects, 17 dwarf satellites of the Milky Way, one published z 〉 6 quasar (and more confirmed) and two published superluminous supernovae (and more confirmed).