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The detection and estimation of signals in noisy, limited data is a problem of interest to many scientific and engineering communities. We present a mathematically justifiable, computationally simple, sample-eigenvalue-based procedure for estimating the number of high-dimensional signals in white noise using relatively few samples. The main motivation for considering a sample-eigenvalue-based scheme is the computational simplicity and the robustness to eigenvector modelling errors which can adversely impact the performance of estimators that exploit information in the sample eigenvectors. There is, however, a price we pay by discarding the information in the sample eigenvectors; we highlight a fundamental asymptotic limit of sample-eigenvalue-based detection of weak or closely spaced high-dimensional signals from a limited sample size. This motivates our heuristic definition of the effective number of identifiable signals which is equal to the number of ldquosignalrdquo eigenvalues of the population covariance matrix which exceed the noise variance by a factor strictly greater than . The fundamental asymptotic limit brings into sharp focus why, when there are too few samples available so that the effective number of signals is less than the actual number of signals, underestimation of the model order is unavoidable (in an asymptotic sense) when using any sample-eigenvalue-based detection scheme, including the one proposed herein. The analysis reveals why adding more sensors can only exacerbate the situation. Numerical simulations are used to demonstrate that the proposed estimator, like Wax and Kailath's MDL-based estimator, consistently estimates the true number of signals in the dimension fixed, large sample size limit and the effective number of identifiable signals, unlike Wax and Kailath's MDL-based estimator, in the large dimension, (relatively) large sample size limit.