Apparent magnitude

Asteroid 65 Cybele and two stars, with their magnitudes labeled

The apparent magnitude (m) of an astronomical object is a number that is a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The magnitude scale is logarithmic. A difference of 1 in magnitude corresponds to a change in brightness by a factor of 5100, or about 2.512. The brighter an object appears, the lower its magnitude value (i.e. inverse relation), with the brightest astronomical objects having negative apparent magnitudes: for example Sirius at −1.46.

The measurement of apparent magnitudes or brightnesses of celestial objects is known as photometry. Apparent magnitudes are used to quantify the brightness of sources at ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. An apparent magnitude is usually measured in a specific passband corresponding to some photometric system such as the UBV system. In standard astronomical notation, an apparent magnitude in the V ("visual") filter band would be denoted either as mV or often simply as V, as in "mV = 15" or "V = 15" to describe a 15th-magnitude object.


Visible to
to Vega
Number of stars
brighter than
apparent magnitude[2]
in the night sky
Yes −1.0 251% 1 (Sirius)
00.0 100% 4
01.0 40% 15
02.0 16% 48
03.0 6.3% 171
04.0 2.5% 513
05.0 1.0% 1602
06.0 0.4% 4800
06.5 0.25% 9100[3]
No 07.0 0.16% 14000
08.0 0.063% 42000
09.0 0.025% 121000
10.0 0.010% 340000

The scale used to indicate magnitude originates in the Hellenistic practice of dividing stars visible to the naked eye into six magnitudes. The brightest stars in the night sky were said to be of first magnitude (m = 1), whereas the faintest were of sixth magnitude (m = 6), which is the limit of human visual perception (without the aid of a telescope). Each grade of magnitude was considered twice the brightness of the following grade (a logarithmic scale), although that ratio was subjective as no photodetectors existed. This rather crude scale for the brightness of stars was popularized by Ptolemy in his Almagest and is generally believed to have originated with Hipparchus.

In 1856, Norman Robert Pogson formalized the system by defining a first magnitude star as a star that is 100 times as bright as a sixth-magnitude star, thereby establishing the logarithmic scale still in use today. This implies that a star of magnitude m is about 2.512 times as bright as a star of magnitude m + 1. This figure, the fifth root of 100, became known as Pogson's Ratio.[4] The zero point of Pogson's scale was originally defined by assigning Polaris a magnitude of exactly 2. Astronomers later discovered that Polaris is slightly variable, so they switched to Vega as the standard reference star, assigning the brightness of Vega as the definition of zero magnitude at any specified wavelength.

Apart from small corrections, the brightness of Vega still serves as the definition of zero magnitude for visible and near infrared wavelengths, where its spectral energy distribution (SED) closely approximates that of a black body for a temperature of 11000 K. However, with the advent of infrared astronomy it was revealed that Vega's radiation includes an Infrared excess presumably due to a circumstellar disk consisting of dust at warm temperatures (but much cooler than the star's surface). At shorter (e.g. visible) wavelengths, there is negligible emission from dust at these temperatures. However, in order to properly extend the magnitude scale further into the infrared, this peculiarity of Vega should not affect the definition of the magnitude scale. Therefore, the magnitude scale was extrapolated to all wavelengths on the basis of the black-body radiation curve for an ideal stellar surface at 11000 K uncontaminated by circumstellar radiation. On this basis the spectral irradiance (usually expressed in janskys) for the zero magnitude point, as a function of wavelength, can be computed.[5] Small deviations are specified between systems using measurement apparatuses developed independently so that data obtained by different astronomers can be properly compared, but of greater practical importance is the definition of magnitude not at a single wavelength but applying to the response of standard spectral filters used in photometry over various wavelength bands.

With the modern magnitude systems, brightness over a very wide range is specified according to the logarithmic definition detailed below, using this zero reference. In practice such apparent magnitudes do not exceed 30 (for detectable measurements). The brightness of Vega is exceeded by four stars in the night sky at visible wavelengths (and more at infrared wavelengths) as well as the bright planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, and these must be described by negative magnitudes. For example, Sirius, the brightest star of the celestial sphere, has an apparent magnitude of −1.4 in the visible. Negative magnitudes for other very bright astronomical objects can be found in the table below.

Astronomers have developed other photometric zeropoint systems as alternatives to the Vega system. The most widely used is the AB magnitude system,[6] in which photometric zeropoints are based on a hypothetical reference spectrum having constant flux per unit frequency interval, rather than using a stellar spectrum or blackbody curve as the reference. The AB magnitude zeropoint is defined such that an object's AB and Vega-based magnitudes will be approximately equal in the V filter band.

Other Languages
العربية: قدر ظاهري
বাংলা: আপাত মান
Esperanto: Ŝajna magnitudo
فارسی: قدر ظاهری
한국어: 겉보기등급
Bahasa Indonesia: Magnitudo semu
interlingua: Magnitude apparente
עברית: בהירות
Kreyòl ayisyen: Mayitid aparan
Lëtzebuergesch: Visuell Magnitude
lietuvių: Spindesys
magyar: Magnitúdó
Bahasa Melayu: Magnitud ketara
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Koʻrinma yulduz kattaligi
português: Magnitude aparente
Simple English: Magnitude (astronomy)
slovenščina: Navidezni sij
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Prividna magnituda
татарча/tatarça: Йолдызча зурлык
Tiếng Việt: Cấp sao biểu kiến
West-Vlams: Magnitude
粵語: 視星等
中文: 视星等