AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 9. Ground Based Instrumentation
Display, Monday, May 31, 1999, 9:20am-6:30pm, Southwest Exhibit Hall

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[9.16] Vision thresholds revisited

R. H. Garstang (JILA, Univ. Colo.)

During and just after World War II there was intense interest in the threshold for seeing faint sources against illuminated backgrounds. Knoll, Tousey and Hulburt (1946, 1948) determined the threshold for (effectively) point sources seen against backgrounds ranging in brightness from darkness to subdued daylight. Blackwell (1946) gave contrast ratios for sources of various sizes ranging from point sources up to circular disks of 6 degrees diameter, all seen against the same range of brightnesses, and determined by a very large number of visual observations made by a team of observers. I have combined the two sets of results, and represented them by an improvement on the theoretical formula for threshold illuminance as a function of background brightness which was suggested by Hecht (1934). My formula agrees very well with the observations, and is very suitable for incorporation into computer programs. Applications have been made to problems where the background brightness is caused by light pollution, and the source size is determined by the seeing. These include the optimum magnification and limiting magnitude of telescopes, and the analysis of visual limiting magnitudes determined by Bowen (1947) to determine the night sky brightness at Mount Wilson in 1947.

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