This is not a science fiction question, but I was considering the visual accuracy of ships in space depcicted in Battlestar Galactica and the like. They are always strongly lit.

If they are in between stars, would they be visible at all or bathed in light equally on all sides?

Sample image

Pursuing it further, at what distance from a star does an object no longer reflect it's light as the dominant light source and after that is it dark?


The brightness of the spaceship follows (almost) the inverse square law, meaning twice the distance from the star, the brightness will be a quater. In the middle of nowhere, but within a galaxy, it would look like in a moonless, and cloudless night, far away from any artificial light source. It wouldn't be pitchblack, but much too dark to read a newspaper. You would see the stars in the background, and the fuzzy band of the Milky Way. The starship would occult the stars; that way you would see the black silhouette of the starship.

At 630.1-fold the distance of the Earth from the Sun (about 3.65 light-days), it would look like at full moon (derived from apparent magnitudes of full moon and Sun)

But maybe the starship is illuminated artificially.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, helps me visualize the reality of travel between stars. I can imagine two ships traveling from the sun to Procyon. 3 days out at light speed, the lead ship would look more moonlit vs sunlit. 3 years out it would be hard to spot. Fun to contemplate. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – Itumac
    Apr 30 '14 at 14:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Given human eyesight it'd be a black silhouette against the stars as Gerald says. It's possible a camera more light sensitive than the human eye could discern some form though. Given a camera sensitive enough to make out details from reflected starlight, I would expect the side facing the galaxy to be more brightly lit. $\endgroup$
    – HopDavid
    May 14 '14 at 14:55

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