AAS 199th meeting, Washington, DC, January 2002
Session 104. Light Pollution Issues
Display, Wednesday, January 9, 2002, 9:20am-6:30pm, Exhibit Hall

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[104.06] The Visibility of Stars as a Function of Night Sky Brightness

A.R. Upgren (Yale and Wesleyan Universities), A.L. Loth (Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich, CT), J. Stock (CIDA, Merida, Venezuela)

The number of stars visible to the naked eye at night varies widely, but is often reported as being near 2500 on a dark night. The true numbers vary widely, depending as they do on the faintest limiting magnitude visible to a particular eye, V', and the extinction coefficient of the sky as a function of haze and the reflection of aerosols in the lower atmosphere due to upward-shining light pollution. We limit our discussion to cloud free moonless nights with a true horizon uncluttered by trees and buildings. For simplicity, we assume a linear extinction coefficient, k, to represent the influence of sky brightness and light pollution. The input to the program consists of the entire Bright Star Catalogue of 9110 stars (essentially complete in photoelectric V magnitude to V > 6) and choices for observer latitude, local sidereal time, k, and V'. Here we present results for the latitude of Middletown, CT (41.5N) and three values of k, representing cases of observation at sea level; these are 0.3 for a clear night in the country far from lights, 0.5 for a typical suburban street, and 0.8 for a city center. It is assumed that no direct glare is present. The limiting magnitude of the faintest visible star, V', varies widely among observers from as faint as 8.0 for some with very keen eyesight, to perhaps 4.5 for elderly observers. Star counts can be derived for any set of input variables. This program allows great flexibility and can be used in a convincing manner to illustrate the damaging effects of light pollution.

For the latitude of 41.5N and a local sidereal time of zero hours, we find for extinctions of 0.3, 0.5, and 0.8 magnitudes, about 2350, 1720, and 1100 visible stars, respectively, for the canonical limiting magnitude of 6.0 at the zenith, with little change over the range in sidereal time. Raising V' to 5.0, a more realistic limit for elderly eyes, lowers the counts to about 700, 500, and 320, respectively. These numbers suggest that aging eyes play a greater role in the diminution of visible stars than does light pollution, but more representative values of k for typical urban and suburban conditions may be necessary. Further work will center on the variation of k with sky brightness levels.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: aupgren@wesleyan.edu

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