English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm looking for something like "eclipsed" or "occulted", but caused by the brightness of the light rather than by anything solid being in the way.

share|improve this question
"Outshone"? – Peter Shor May 27 '14 at 15:45
@PeterShor "Outshone" just means the moon was brighter than the stars; it doesn't imply that the extra brightness stops you seeing nearby stars. – David Richerby May 28 '14 at 13:45

10 Answers 10

up vote 16 down vote accepted

You can say that the stars are washed out by the moonlight:

intransitive verb

  1. to become depleted of color or vitality: fade

Unlike obscured, which to me has a connotation of either covering, physical obstruction, or darkness, washed out paints a more appropriate picture, which is that there is too much light.

share|improve this answer
This is the only answer here that is not half-assed. (Other than the awesome "masked", which would be the technical or engineering choice.) (Err, other than the actual term used by astronomers, of course.) – Joe Blow May 28 '14 at 6:22
Thanks, this looks like the best choice for what I'm doing. – Lunivore May 28 '14 at 9:28
Yes, "washed out" is the standard astronomical term for the Moon brightening the sky (scattered light, as the Sun does) to the point that the stars are hard to see against the bright background (low contrast). That's why you don't see stars during daytime. The stars are just as bright as ever, but now so low contrast with the background sky that you can't see them. – Phil Perry May 28 '14 at 14:31


Meaning (verb past tense): keep from being seen; conceal.

Example(s): The stars were obscured by the brightness of the full moon. You might well wear sunglasses to prevent the glare of the sun from obscuring your view.

Synonyms: hide, conceal, cover, veil, shroud, screen, mask, cloak, cast a shadow over, shadow, envelop, mantle, block, block out, blank out, obliterate, eclipse, overshadow

Seems to fit the purpose?

share|improve this answer
“… but caused by the brightness of the light rather than by anything solid being in the way”. Obscured can just as well (or better) mean that something, like clouds for example, is in the way. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 27 '14 at 16:00
I think, perhaps, your comment is obscuring the fact that it's a suitable answer without actually getting in the way of it... – DigiWongaDude May 27 '14 at 16:30
If you use "obscure", you do have to make clear that it's the light that's doing the obscuring. If you just said "The stars were obscured by the moon", the most natural interpretation would be that the stars in question were physically behind the moon. – David Richerby May 28 '14 at 13:30

The correct term in astronomy is obfuscate.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to ELU! It would be nice if you can include sources as well to make a better answer. It would be a nice addition to have astronomers or sky observers here :) – ermanen May 27 '14 at 23:10
@Jorge .. you probably have seen this :) xkcd.com/1371 – Joe Blow May 28 '14 at 6:26
I've never seen "obfuscate" used in that sense (in astronomy). Is it supported by dictionaries? – Phil Perry May 28 '14 at 13:42


works well. Also the three sub-definitions add something to the meaning (Collins)

(transitive) to shine more brightly than
(transitive) to surpass in excellence, beauty, wit, etc
(intransitive) (rare) to emit light
share|improve this answer
"Outshined" is non-standard. "Outshone" is the standard past tense and past participle. – Tatpurusha May 27 '14 at 21:55
@Tatpurusha Shine is one of those “strong verbs” that had an irregular past tense and past participle (shone) but later acquired a regular form ending in -ed as well. Some people use the forms interchangeably, but there is a pattern that most people follow to keep them distinct. Shined takes a personal subject and an object: I shined the flashlight at the bear. Shone is used of light sources and does not take an object: The moon shone over the harbor. – 200_success May 27 '14 at 22:30
It may be difficult to show outshined is the common usage, except perhaps in a shoe-shining competition – Henry May 28 '14 at 8:40
The difference between shined and shone in American English is quite complicated (and depends on the speaker/dialect), but very few Americans use shined for either the sun or the moon. – Peter Shor May 28 '14 at 12:32
I've edited my answer with outshone. I had found "outshined" in relation to cosmic bodies occulting stars in a letter to Haley (the one from the comet) and more recently here space.com/11451-lyrid-meteor-shower-moon-skywatching-tips.html . So, I thought this form of participle was a an idomatic use in the field. I was wrong. – P. Obertelli May 28 '14 at 12:42

Blind can be used also.

The moonlight blinded the stars.

Technically, this is a natural light pollution (for night sky observers), especially when it is full moon.

Definition from thefreedictionary:

v.t. 19. to outshine; eclipse: a radiance that doth blind the sun.

share|improve this answer
No, the moon might blind (dazzle) the observer, but it's not going to do a thing to the stars. That usage given is certainly not in use today. – Phil Perry May 28 '14 at 13:43
@Phil: It is in use. – ermanen May 28 '14 at 14:16

An easy term to use here is diluted. In fact the example given by the dictionary is pretty close to your question.

adjective: made less strong or severe ("A pale gleam of diluted sunlight")

You could also say that the moonlight saturated the sky, and if you want to be stylistic you could say that the moonlight overshadowed/clouded the stars.

share|improve this answer
No, the light from the stars has not been diluted (spread out into a lower concentration). Light from the Moon is scattered in the atmosphere (like sunlight), brightening the whole sky and reducing contrast between the stars and the background. The stars are just as bright as they were before. – Phil Perry May 28 '14 at 13:45

Consider bedim and dim.

bedim: to make dim

dim: to make dim or dimmer

The stars are bedimmed by the moon.

The stars were dimmed by the moon.

share|improve this answer
That's a very obscure word. – Mitch May 27 '14 at 17:16
@Mitch It surely is! :-) – Elian May 27 '14 at 17:18
They don't change in actual brightness, though. – Cees Timmerman May 28 '14 at 8:01

In audio, when one frequency becomes inaudible due to a stronger, near-by frequency signal, that is called Masking.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to ELU Dude! Can you please explain how this audio term is a fit for this question? Can it be used for light also? – ermanen May 27 '14 at 23:14
Excellent answer - definitely the one I would use. – Joe Blow May 28 '14 at 6:21
@erm .. "Can you please explain how this audio term is a fit for this question?" the most fundamental nature of human language is that you can abstract descriptions across classes. indeed, arguably this is the single central nature of human consciousness. "Can it be used for light also?" Yes, I just tried it and it's perfect. Awesome answer! – Joe Blow May 28 '14 at 6:22
I like it. "The stars were masked by the moon's brightness." Works for me. Going to go with "Washed out" though I think! – Lunivore May 28 '14 at 9:27
No, this can't be used for light. For light, "masking" refers to physically blocking the path of light, which is not the situation being asked about here. For example, computer chips are made photolithography, a process that shine light through a photomask onto a light-sensitive compound. The light breaks down the compound, except for the masked (i.e., shadowed) areas. Likewise, a shadow mask in a CRT physically blocks light. – David Richerby May 28 '14 at 13:42

When ground light drowns out the stars, it is called 'light pollution'. I don't see why the moon's light could not be described the same way.

share|improve this answer
Correct. I mentioned it already though :) – ermanen May 27 '14 at 23:24
I think light pollution would generally give a sense that the cause is artificial light instead of natural ones – user13267 May 28 '14 at 0:45
I'm really looking for an adjective. "Light pollutioned" doesn't work as well for me. Thanks for the insight though! – Lunivore May 28 '14 at 9:30
"Pollution" very strongly implies man-made. – David Richerby May 28 '14 at 13:43
I disagree with David - natural effects can pollute too. In the case of light pollution, it is the distinction between the dim light you want to see being dominated by a nearby brighter source, natural or man-made. The sun is actually a huge offender, wiping out half of every day over the entire sky. – Oldcat May 28 '14 at 20:28

From dictionary.reference.com

obscure [uhb-skyoor ]

verb (used with object) [ob·scured, ob·scur·ing.] 1. to conceal or conceal by confusing (the meaning of a statement, poem, etc.). 2. to make dark, dim, indistinct, etc. 3. to reduce or neutralize (a vowel) to the sound usually represented by a schwa (ə).


share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.