Sunday, May 19, 2024
Sunday May 19, 2024
Sunday May 19, 2024

Christmas lights bright enough to see from space: Physics students calculate the magic number



Inspired by ‘Deck the Halls,’ university of Leicester students determine the quantity needed for extraterrestrial visibility

A group of physics students from the University of Leicester took on a festive challenge inspired by the 2006 movie ‘Deck the Halls,’ where Danny DeVito’s character aims to make his house visible from space using Christmas lights. Ryan Bradley-Evans, Razzia Gafur, Ryan Heath, and Matthew Hough set out to calculate the number of Christmas lights required for such extraterrestrial visibility, adding a scientific twist to the holiday spirit.

To establish their starting point, the students chose the orbit of the International Space Station as the threshold for space, considering it a visible altitude for a house. They also factored in light pollution, opting for an ideal scenario with no light pollution for simplicity. Taking into account the brightness of an LED light measured in apparent magnitude, they determined that a single LED light has an apparent magnitude of around 4 luminosity.

Their calculations revealed that to be visible from space, approximately 2,650 Christmas lights would be needed. Despite oversimplifying certain factors, the students found it feasible to make a house bright enough to be seen from space.

Ryan emphasized the successful intersection of a beloved Christmas film with the physics involved, acknowledging that it’s a rare alignment. The calculated number of lights required prompted an estimate of $540 for purchasing enough lights online, offering an amusing glimpse into the cost of turning your home into a celestial beacon.


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