How Many Stars in the Night Sky

A reader asks: “How many stars can I see in the night sky”?

The answer: “It depends…”

If you’re looking with your unaided eye (without binoculars or a telescope), then in a big city with a lot of light pollution, you can see a few dozen of the brightest stars in the night sky.

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In the suburbs, or in a smaller city, you can see a few hundred stars.

And far away from any light pollution, you can see about 2,000 to 2,500 stars in the sky at one time. A similar number of stars lie unseen over the horizon. You’ll see them in six months, once the Earth revolves halfway around the Sun and the night sky points to the other half of the heavens.

I’m talking here about stars you can resolve, with your eye, into individual points of light. And every one of the stars you see belong to our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

But without optical aid, you can see a few objects that shine with the combined light of a much larger number of unresolved stars, objects such as…

• The Great Hercules star cluster, which contains about 500,000 stars

• The Omega Centauri star cluster, which holds about 1,000,000 stars

• The Andromeda Galaxy, visible without optics, which shines with the combined light of perhaps 500,000,000,000 (that’s five hundred billion) stars (though only the largest telescopes can resolve individual stars).

And with a simple pair of binoculars, you can see as many as half a million stars– clearly resolved– in our own Milky Way.