There are few things more remarkable in life than the fact that we can observe space right from the Earth’s surface. You don’t need to be an astronaut or a telescope owner to view the cosmos with your own eyes. However, our eyes do naturally come with limitations. But how able are our eyes when it comes to admiring space? Time to take a look and see what we can find.
So, how far can we see into space with our eyes? The furthest object in space we can see with our naked eyes is the Andromeda Galaxy. This is located 2.6 million light-years away, appearing as a fuzzy blob in a particularly dark night sky.
Are you impressed by your pair of peepers now?
Well, it should come as no surprise, considering that we can easily see the Moon, which is 385,000 km away, and the Sun (but don’t look directly at it), which is 1.5 billion km!
But what else are we able to see with a little know-how and an understanding of what’s up above us?
What Can We See In Space With Our Naked Eyes?
Mostly, we can see that which is closest to Earth, like the Moon. But we can also see many, many stars as well as planets in our solar system. What we can see at a certain point in time will be dependent on light pollution and weather conditions.
Of course, our eyes aren’t able to see the high-resolution images of cosmic objects that telescopes are capable of producing.
Yet our eyes are pretty perceptive as long as the night sky is clear of clouds and we are viewing from an area with low light pollution.
While light pollution won’t ever stop you from seeing something as close, big, and bright as the Moon, it will hinder your viewing when it comes to distant stars that appear fainter in the sky.
Galaxies, Meteorites, Black Holes, the Milky Way, and even the ISS Space Station are also visible to the naked eye in space.
In fact, the naked eye can often be a more effective tool for viewing some cosmic objects when compared to a telescope.
Meteor showers, for example, race across the night sky.
So, it would be incredibly difficult to keep track of these showers with a telescope.
But with your naked eye, you can easily keep track because your width of view is much wider.
Of course, the most commonly seen object in space is a star.
In dark conditions, our naked eyes can see stars at a magnitude of 6.5 or greater.
Magnitude, in this astronomical sense, by the way, is the measure of how bright a star or celestial object is.
The brighter an object, the lower the magnitude figure will be.
The Sun’s magnitude is -26.7, whereas the Moon’s is -11.
The faintest objects which need to be seen via a telescope will have a magnitude of around 30.
So if the naked eye can see stars at a magnitude of 6.5, that means we can see approximately 9,000 individual stars with our naked eyes alone.
So, there’s plenty for us to see in space without forking out for a telescope.
What Things Can You Not See With The Naked Eye?
Weather and light pollution will hinder your naked eye space viewing. However, there are some objects that can’t be seen at all due to their nature, brightness, and distance from Earth.
Brightness is a big factor in determining what we can see in space. If an object isn’t bright enough, then there’s no way it will be detectable to the naked eye.
Some planets, for example, are without a star/sun.
These are called Rogue Planets.
As they don’t have a light source, they are without enough brightness to be detectable by the naked eye.
An eerie thought that makes you appreciate our Sun all the more!
Any object that is also too far away cannot be seen by the naked eye, either.
Our natural optic utilities do have limits, after all.
So, whilst our naked eyes can see quite a lot of space, there are countless numbers of planets, moons, stars, galaxies, asteroid belts, and comets that will never grace our vision with their presence.
Black Holes are an interesting one.
Sometimes we can see them with the naked eye; other times, we can’t.
This all depends on one particular process.
Most black holes have an Accretion Ring, which is generated when the black hole consumes something.
The brightness of this ring makes them visible.
If the black hole isn’t consuming anything, meaning there is no nearby mass, then it won’t have an Accretion Ring and will therefore not be visible to the naked eye.
The brightness of this ring is what makes them visible.
There are also other cosmic elements that are detectable with technology but not with the naked eye, like Intergalactic dust, for example, which makes up a substantial amount of the universe.
Space itself can also not be viewed.
We may talk about how far into space our naked eyes can see, but all we’re actually looking at is the objects located in space.
What Factors Impact What We Can See In Space With Our Naked Eyes?
A lot of the same factors that impact telescopic viewing also impact naked eye viewing. For example, light pollution, location of viewing, sky darkness, and of course, the brightness of the object in space and how far away it is.
The level of vision you naturally possess is always going to be hugely influential, whether you’re viewing space through a telescope or with your own natural pair of eyes.
If you have perfect 20/20 vision, then you’ll be able to see more of the space with your naked eye than someone who has a weaker vision.
The darker the night sky, the more illuminated objects will appear in space.
The factor of darkness is heavily connected to light pollution. If you’re in an area of heavy light pollution, as an urban area, the sky won’t appear as dark and will therefore reveal less of the cosmos.
If you’re somewhere where light pollution is lower, like the countryside, then the darkness of the sky will be enhanced, leading to more objects with high visibility.
Location is also key. Some parts of the world are better for seeing space from the surface than others.
Places like the Atacama Desert in Chile and Utah in the US are excellent places for admiring the cosmos purely down to the luck of the draw when it comes to geographical location.
Other factors include the weather, object size, object color, your own stargazing experience/skill, and even alcohol consumption, as it depresses the eyes’ dark adaptation response.
How To Improve Your Naked Eye Space Viewing
We all know the saying practice makes perfect. Well, that applies here as well. The more you observe the cosmos with your naked eyes, the better they will become at viewing it.
Train Your Eyes
Believe it or not, but using binoculars and telescopes will also help train your eyes, as it allows them to become accustomed to receiving faint images from tremendously far-off distances.
Exercise Your Eyes
Exercise your eyes. During the day, try to view distant objects in great detail.
For example, you could try and count how many windows a distant building has. Or count how many cows you can see in a field.
By doing this, you are training your eyes to view distant objects, which will only serve you well when viewing space naturally.
Learn The Night Sky
But it’s not just about having good eyesight. You also need to know the night sky.
Having star charts will assist you in navigating the cosmos.
Trust me, the sky is vast, so if you know which part you need to be looking at, that will make things a whole lot easier.
Pick Your Timing Wisely
Also, pick your days wisely. You don’t want to go out and try and look for stars in unsuitable conditions.
The experience will be very underwhelming. Check the weather forecast.
If you’re pretty advanced by now, try a new technique called Averted Vision.
This is where you look at objects out of the corner of your eye, which means the image is brought into a higher resolution.
One final thing. Always take your vitamin A.
Eat your cheese.
Eat your eggs.
Eat your oily fish.
A good natural supply of vitamin A will aid your vision at night.
I bet you won’t look at your eyes in the same way again after learning how much of the cosmos they can see. Unaided!
Even though we can see the diverse nature of the space from our back gardens, a telescope will always be able to take you deeper.
That being said, there’s nothing like watching a Meteor Shower with your own good old peepers.
Hey, my name is Chris. I’m a passionate and seasoned astronomer who loves nothing more than observing the night sky. I also love researching, learning, and writing all things Space and the Universe. I created Astronomy Scope to share my knowledge, experience, suggestions, and recommendations of what I have learned along the way while helping anyone to get into and maximize their enjoyment of the hobby.