In astronomy, luminosity is the total amount of energy emitted per unit of time by a star, galaxy, or other astronomical object. As a term for energy emitted per unit time, luminosity is synonymous with power. In SI units luminosity is measured in joules per second or watts. Values for luminosity are given in the terms of the luminosity of the Sun, L⊙. Luminosity can be given in terms of the astronomical magnitude system: the absolute bolometric magnitude of an object is a logarithmic measure of its total energy emission rate, while absolute magnitude is a logarithmic measure of the luminosity within some specific wavelength range or filter band. In contrast, the term brightness in astronomy is used to refer to an object's apparent brightness: that is, how bright an object appears to an observer. Apparent brightness depends on both the luminosity of the object and the distance between the object and observer, on any absorption of light along the path from object to observer. Apparent magnitude is a logarithmic measure of apparent brightness.
The distance determined by luminosity measures can be somewhat ambiguous, is thus sometimes called the luminosity distance. In astronomy, luminosity is the amount of electromagnetic energy; when not qualified, the term "luminosity" means bolometric luminosity, measured either in the SI units, watts, or in terms of solar luminosities. A bolometer is the instrument used to measure radiant energy over a wide band by absorption and measurement of heating. A star radiates neutrinos, which carry off some energy, contributing to the star's total luminosity; the IAU has defined a nominal solar luminosity of 3.828×1026 W to promote publication of consistent and comparable values in units of the solar luminosity. While bolometers do exist, they cannot be used to measure the apparent brightness of a star because they are insufficiently sensitive across the electromagnetic spectrum and because most wavelengths do not reach the surface of the Earth. In practice bolometric magnitudes are measured by taking measurements at certain wavelengths and constructing a model of the total spectrum, most to match those measurements.
In some cases, the process of estimation is extreme, with luminosities being calculated when less than 1% of the energy output is observed, for example with a hot Wolf-Rayet star observed only in the infra-red. Bolometric luminosities can be calculated using a bolometric correction to a luminosity in a particular passband; the term luminosity is used in relation to particular passbands such as a visual luminosity of K-band luminosity. These are not luminosities in the strict sense of an absolute measure of radiated power, but absolute magnitudes defined for a given filter in a photometric system. Several different photometric systems exist; some such as the UBV or Johnson system are defined against photometric standard stars, while others such as the AB system are defined in terms of a spectral flux density. A star's luminosity can be determined from two stellar characteristics: size and effective temperature; the former is represented in terms of solar radii, R⊙, while the latter is represented in kelvins, but in most cases neither can be measured directly.
To determine a star's radius, two other metrics are needed: the star's angular diameter and its distance from Earth. Both can be measured with great accuracy in certain cases, with cool supergiants having large angular diameters, some cool evolved stars having masers in their atmospheres that can be used to measure the parallax using VLBI. However, for most stars the angular diameter or parallax, or both, are far below our ability to measure with any certainty. Since the effective temperature is a number that represents the temperature of a black body that would reproduce the luminosity, it cannot be measured directly, but it can be estimated from the spectrum. An alternative way to measure stellar luminosity is to measure the star's apparent brightness and distance. A third component needed to derive the luminosity is the degree of interstellar extinction, present, a condition that arises because of gas and dust present in the interstellar medium, the Earth's atmosphere, circumstellar matter.
One of astronomy's central challenges in determining a star's luminosity is to derive accurate measurements for each of these components, without which an accurate luminosity figure remains elusive. Extinction can only be measured directly if the actual and observed luminosities are both known, but it can be estimated from the observed colour of a star, using models of the expected level of reddening from the interstellar medium. In the current system of stellar classification, stars are grouped according to temperature, with the massive young and energetic Class O stars boasting temperatures in excess of 30,000 K while the less massive older Class M stars exhibit temperatures less than 3,500 K; because luminosity is proportional to temperature to the fourth power, the large variation in stellar temperatures produces an vaster variation in stellar luminosity. Because the luminosity depends on a high power of the stellar mass, high mass luminous stars have much shorter lifetimes; the most luminous stars are always young stars, no more than a few million years for the most extreme.
In the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, the x-axis represents temperature or spectral type while the y-axis represents luminosity or magnitude. The vast majority of stars are found along the main sequence with blue Class O stars found at the top left of the chart while red Class M stars fall to the bottom right. Certain stars like Deneb and Betelgeuse are
Minute and second of arc
A minute of arc, arc minute, or minute arc is a unit of angular measurement equal to 1/60 of one degree. Since one degree is 1/360 of a turn, one minute of arc is 1/21600 of a turn – it is for this reason that the Earth's circumference is exactly 21,600 nautical miles. A minute of arc is π/10800 of a radian. A second of arc, arcsecond, or arc second is 1/60 of an arcminute, 1/3600 of a degree, 1/1296000 of a turn, π/648000 of a radian; these units originated in Babylonian astronomy as sexagesimal subdivisions of the degree. To express smaller angles, standard SI prefixes can be employed; the number of square arcminutes in a complete sphere is 4 π 2 = 466 560 000 π ≈ 148510660 square arcminutes. The names "minute" and "second" have nothing to do with the identically named units of time "minute" or "second"; the identical names reflect the ancient Babylonian number system, based on the number 60. The standard symbol for marking the arcminute is the prime, though a single quote is used where only ASCII characters are permitted.
One arcminute is thus written 1′. It is abbreviated as arcmin or amin or, less the prime with a circumflex over it; the standard symbol for the arcsecond is the double prime, though a double quote is used where only ASCII characters are permitted. One arcsecond is thus written 1″, it is abbreviated as arcsec or asec. In celestial navigation, seconds of arc are used in calculations, the preference being for degrees and decimals of a minute, for example, written as 42° 25.32′ or 42° 25.322′. This notation has been carried over into marine GPS receivers, which display latitude and longitude in the latter format by default; the full moon's average apparent size is about 31 arcminutes. An arcminute is the resolution of the human eye. An arcsecond is the angle subtended by a U. S. dime coin at a distance of 4 kilometres. An arcsecond is the angle subtended by an object of diameter 725.27 km at a distance of one astronomical unit, an object of diameter 45866916 km at one light-year, an object of diameter one astronomical unit at a distance of one parsec, by definition.
A milliarcsecond is about the size of a dime atop the Eiffel Tower. A microarcsecond is about the size of a period at the end of a sentence in the Apollo mission manuals left on the Moon as seen from Earth. A nanoarcsecond is about the size of a penny on Neptune's moon Triton as observed from Earth. Notable examples of size in arcseconds are: Hubble Space Telescope has calculational resolution of 0.05 arcseconds and actual resolution of 0.1 arcseconds, close to the diffraction limit. Crescent Venus measures between 66 seconds of arc. Since antiquity the arcminute and arcsecond have been used in astronomy. In the ecliptic coordinate system and longitude; the principal exception is right ascension in equatorial coordinates, measured in time units of hours and seconds. The arcsecond is often used to describe small astronomical angles such as the angular diameters of planets, the proper motion of stars, the separation of components of binary star systems, parallax, the small change of position of a star in the course of a year or of a solar system body as the Earth rotates.
These small angles may be written in milliarcseconds, or thousandths of an arcsecond. The unit of distance, the parsec, named from the parallax of one arc second, was developed for such parallax measurements, it is the distance at which the mean radius of the Earth's orbit would subtend an angle of one arcsecond. The ESA astrometric space probe Gaia, launched in 2013, can approximate star positions to 7 microarcseconds. Apart from the Sun, the star with the largest angular diameter from Earth is R Doradus, a red giant with a diameter of 0.05 arcsecond. Because of the effects of atmospheric seeing, ground-based telescopes will smear the image of a star to an angular diameter of about 0.5 arcsecond. The dwarf planet Pluto has proven difficult to resolve because its angular diameter is about 0.1 arcsecond. Space telescopes are diffraction limited. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope can reach an angular size of stars down to about 0.1″. Techniques exist for improving seeing on the ground. Adaptive optics, for example, can produce images around 0.05 arcsecond on a 10 m class telescope.
Minutes and seconds of arc are used in cartography and navigation. At sea level one minute of arc
The zodiac is an area of the sky that extends 8° north or south of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The paths of the Moon and visible planets are within the belt of the zodiac. In Western astrology, astronomy, the zodiac is divided into twelve signs, each occupying 30° of celestial longitude and corresponding to the constellations Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Capricorn and Pisces; the twelve astrological signs form a celestial coordinate system, or more an ecliptic coordinate system, which takes the ecliptic as the origin of latitude and the Sun's position at vernal equinox as the origin of longitude. The English word zodiac derives from zōdiacus, the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek zōidiakòs kýklos, meaning "cycle or circle of little animals". Zōidion is the diminutive of zōion; the name reflects the prominence of animals among the twelve signs. The zodiac was in use by the Roman era, based on concepts inherited by Hellenistic astronomy from Babylonian astronomy of the Chaldean period, which, in turn, derived from an earlier system of lists of stars along the ecliptic.
The construction of the zodiac is described in the Almagest. Although the zodiac remains the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system in use in astronomy besides the equatorial one, the term and the names of the twelve signs are today associated with horoscopic astrology; the term "zodiac" may refer to the region of the celestial sphere encompassing the paths of the planets corresponding to the band of about eight arc degrees above and below the ecliptic. The zodiac of a given planet is the band. By extension, the "zodiac of the comets" may refer to the band encompassing most short-period comets; the division of the ecliptic into the zodiacal signs originates in Babylonian astronomy during the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The zodiac draws on stars in earlier Babylonian star catalogues, such as the MUL. APIN catalogue, compiled around 1000 BC; some of the constellations can be traced further back, to Bronze Age sources, including Gemini "The Twins", from MAŠ. TAB. BA. GAL. GAL "The Great Twins", Cancer "The Crab", from AL.
LUL "The Crayfish", among others. Around the end of the 5th century BC, Babylonian astronomers divided the ecliptic into twelve equal "signs", by analogy to twelve schematic months of thirty days each; each sign contained thirty degrees of celestial longitude, thus creating the first known celestial coordinate system. According to calculations by modern astrophysics, the zodiac was introduced between 409 and 398 BC and within a few years of 401 BC Unlike modern astronomers, who place the beginning of the sign of Aries at the place of the Sun at the vernal equinox; the divisions do not correspond to where the constellations started and ended in the sky. The Sun in fact passed through at least 13, not 12 Babylonian constellations. In order to align with the number of months in a year, designers of the system omitted the major constellation Ophiuchus. Including smaller figures, astronomers have counted up to 21 eligible zodiac constellations. Changes in the orientation of the Earth's axis of rotation means that the time of year the sun is in a given constellation has changed since Babylonian times.
Because the division was made into equal arcs, 30° each, they constituted an ideal system of reference for making predictions about a planet's longitude. However, Babylonian techniques of observational measurements were in a rudimentary stage of evolution and they measured the position of a planet in reference to a set of "normal stars" close to the ecliptic as observational reference points to help positioning a planet within this ecliptic coordinate system. In Babylonian astronomical diaries, a planet position was given with respect to a zodiacal sign alone, less in specific degrees within a sign; when the degrees of longitude were given, they were expressed with reference to the 30° of the zodiacal sign, i.e. not with a reference to the continuous 360° ecliptic. In astronomical ephemerides, the positions of significant astronomical phenomena were computed in sexagesimal fractions of a degree. For daily ephemerides, the daily positions of a planet were not as important as the astrologically significant dates when the planet crossed from one zodiacal sign to the next.
Knowledge of the Babylonian zodiac is reflected in the Hebrew Bible. Some authors have linked the twelve tribes of Israel with the twelve signs and/or the lunar Hebrew calendar having 12 lunar months in a lunar year. Martin and others have argued that the arrangement of the tribes around the Tabernacle corresponded to the order of the Zodiac, with Judah, Reuben and Dan representing the middle signs of Leo, Aquarius and Scorpio, respectively; such connectio
A blue straggler is a main-sequence star in an open or globular cluster, more luminous and bluer than stars at the main sequence turnoff point for the cluster. Blue stragglers were first discovered by Allan Sandage in 1953 while performing photometry of the stars in the globular cluster M3. Standard theories of stellar evolution hold that the position of a star on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram should be determined entirely by the initial mass of the star and its age. In a cluster, stars all formed at the same time, thus in an H–R diagram for a cluster, all stars should lie along a defined curve set by the age of the cluster, with the positions of individual stars on that curve determined by their initial mass. With masses two to three times that of the rest of the main-sequence cluster stars, blue stragglers seem to be exceptions to this rule; the resolution of this problem is related to interactions between two or more stars in the dense confines of the clusters in which blue stragglers are found.
Several explanations have been put forth to explain the existence of blue stragglers. The simplest is that blue stragglers formed than the rest of the stars in the cluster, but evidence for this is limited. Another simple proposal is that blue stragglers are either field stars which are not members of the clusters to which they seem to belong, or are field stars which were captured by the cluster; this too seems unlikely, as blue stragglers reside at the center of the clusters to which they belong. Another theory is that blue stragglers are the result of stars that come too close to another star or similar mass object and collide; the two most viable explanations put forth for the existence of blue stragglers both involve interactions between cluster members. One explanation is that they are current or former binary stars that are in the process of merging or have done so; the merger of two stars would create a single more massive star with a mass larger than that of stars at the main-sequence turn-off point.
While a star born with a mass larger than that of stars at the turn-off point would have evolved off of the main sequence, a more massive star which formed via merger would not have evolved as quickly. There is evidence in favor of this view, notably that blue stragglers appear to be much more common in dense regions of clusters in the cores of globular clusters. Since there are more stars per unit volume and close encounters are far more in clusters than among field stars and calculations of the expected number of collisions are consistent with the observed number of blue stragglers. One way to test this hypothesis is to study the pulsations of variable blue stragglers; the asteroseismological properties of merged stars may be measurably different from those of typical pulsating variables of similar mass and luminosity. However, the measurement of pulsations is difficult, given the scarcity of variable blue stragglers, the small photometric amplitudes of their pulsations and the crowded fields in which these stars are found.
Some blue stragglers have been observed to rotate with one example in 47 Tucanae observed to rotate 75 times faster than the Sun, consistent with formation by collision. The other explanation relies on mass transfer between two stars born in a binary star system; the more massive of the two stars in the system will evolve first and as it expands, will overflow its Roche lobe. Mass will transfer from the more massive companion on to the less massive and like the collision hypothesis, would explain why there would be main-sequence stars more massive than other stars in the cluster which have evolved off of the main sequence. Observations of blue stragglers have found that some have less carbon and oxygen in their photospheres than is typical, evidence of their outer material having been dredged up from the interior of a companion. Overall, there is evidence in favor of both collisions and mass transfer between binary stars. In M3, 47 Tucanae and NGC 6752, both mechanisms seem to be operating, with collisional blue stragglers occupying the cluster cores and mass transfer blue stragglers at the outskirts.
The discovery of low-mass white dwarf companions around two blue stragglers in the Kepler field suggests these two blue stragglers gained mass via stable mass transfer. "Yellow stragglers" or "red stragglers" are stars with colors between that of the turnoff and the red giant branch but brighter than the subgiant branch. Such stars have been identified in globular star clusters; these stars may be former blue straggler stars. Algol variable – A class of eclipsing binary stars SX Phoenicis variable Stellar collision
Stellar magnetic field
A stellar magnetic field is a magnetic field generated by the motion of conductive plasma inside a star. This motion is created through convection, a form of energy transport involving the physical movement of material. A localized magnetic field exerts a force on the plasma increasing the pressure without a comparable gain in density; as a result, the magnetized region rises relative to the remainder of the plasma, until it reaches the star's photosphere. This creates starspots on the surface, the related phenomenon of coronal loops; the magnetic field of a star can be measured by means of the Zeeman effect. The atoms in a star's atmosphere will absorb certain frequencies of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum, producing characteristic dark absorption lines in the spectrum; when the atoms are within a magnetic field, these lines become split into multiple spaced lines. The energy becomes polarized with an orientation that depends on orientation of the magnetic field, thus the strength and direction of the star's magnetic field can be determined by examination of the Zeeman effect lines.
A stellar spectropolarimeter is used to measure the magnetic field of a star. This instrument consists of a spectrograph combined with a polarimeter; the first instrument to be dedicated to the study of stellar magnetic fields was NARVAL, mounted on the Bernard Lyot Telescope at the Pic du Midi de Bigorre in the French Pyrenees mountains. Various measurements—including magnetometer measurements over the last 150 years. Stellar magnetic fields, according to solar dynamo theory, are caused within the convective zone of the star; the convective circulation of the conducting plasma functions like a dynamo. This activity destroys the star's primordial magnetic field generates a dipolar magnetic field; as the star undergoes differential rotation—rotating at different rates for various latitudes—the magnetism is wound into a toroidal field of "flux ropes" that become wrapped around the star. The fields can become concentrated, producing activity when they emerge on the surface; the magnetic field of a rotating body of conductive gas or liquid develops self-amplifying electric currents, thus a self-generated magnetic field, due to a combination of differential rotation, Coriolis forces and induction.
The distribution of currents can be quite complicated, with numerous open and closed loops, thus the magnetic field of these currents in their immediate vicinity is quite twisted. At large distances, the magnetic fields of currents flowing in opposite directions cancel out and only a net dipole field survives diminishing with distance; because the major currents flow in the direction of conductive mass motion, the major component of the generated magnetic field is the dipole field of the equatorial current loop, thus producing magnetic poles near the geographic poles of a rotating body. The magnetic fields of all celestial bodies are aligned with the direction of rotation, with notable exceptions such as certain pulsars. Another feature of this dynamo model is that the currents are AC rather than DC, their direction, thus the direction of the magnetic field they generate, alternates more or less periodically, changing amplitude and reversing direction, although still more or less aligned with the axis of rotation.
The Sun's major component of magnetic field reverses direction every 11 years, resulting in a diminished magnitude of magnetic field near reversal time. During this dormancy, the sunspots activity is at maximum and, as a result, massive ejection of high energy plasma into the solar corona and interplanetary space takes place. Collisions of neighboring sunspots with oppositely directed magnetic fields result in the generation of strong electric fields near disappearing magnetic field regions; this electric field accelerates electrons and protons to high energies which results in jets of hot plasma leaving the Sun's surface and heating coronal plasma to high temperatures. If the gas or liquid is viscous, the reversal of the magnetic field may not be periodic; this is the case with the Earth's magnetic field, generated by turbulent currents in a viscous outer core. Starspots are regions of intense magnetic activity on the surface of a star; these form a visible component of magnetic flux tubes that are formed within a star's convection zone.
Due to the differential rotation of the star, the tube becomes curled up and stretched, inhibiting convection and producing zones of lower than normal temperature. Coronal loops form above starspots, forming from magnetic field lines that stretch out into the corona; these in turn serve to heat the corona to temperatures over a million kelvins. The magnetic fields linked to starspots and coronal loops are linked to flare activity, the associated coronal mass ejection; the plasma is heated to tens of millions of kelvins, the particles are accelerated away from the star's surface at extreme velocities. Surface activity appears to be related to the rotation rate of main-sequence stars. Young stars with a rapid rate of rotation exhibit strong activity. By contrast middle-aged, Sun-like stars with a slow rate of rotation show low levels of activity that varies in cycles; some older stars display no activity, which may mean they have entered a lull, compar
A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common barycenter. Systems of two or more stars are called multiple star systems; these systems when more distant appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, are revealed as multiple by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems; the term double star is used synonymously with binary star. Optical doubles are so called because the two stars appear close together in the sky as seen from the Earth, their "doubleness" depends only on this optical effect. A double star can be revealed as optical by means of differences in their parallax measurements, proper motions, or radial velocities. Most known double stars have not been studied adequately to determine whether they are optical doubles or doubles physically bound through gravitation into a multiple star system. Binary star systems are important in astrophysics because calculations of their orbits allow the masses of their component stars to be directly determined, which in turn allows other stellar parameters, such as radius and density, to be indirectly estimated.
This determines an empirical mass-luminosity relationship from which the masses of single stars can be estimated. Binary stars are detected optically, in which case they are called visual binaries. Many visual binaries have long orbital periods of several centuries or millennia and therefore have orbits which are uncertain or poorly known, they may be detected by indirect techniques, such as spectroscopy or astrometry. If a binary star happens to orbit in a plane along our line of sight, its components will eclipse and transit each other. If components in binary star systems are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain. Examples of binaries are Sirius, Cygnus X-1. Binary stars are common as the nuclei of many planetary nebulae, are the progenitors of both novae and type Ia supernovae; the term binary was first used in this context by Sir William Herschel in 1802, when he wrote: If, on the contrary, two stars should be situated near each other, at the same time so far insulated as not to be materially affected by the attractions of neighbouring stars, they will compose a separate system, remain united by the bond of their own mutual gravitation towards each other.
This should be called a real double star. By the modern definition, the term binary star is restricted to pairs of stars which revolve around a common center of mass. Binary stars which can be resolved with a telescope or interferometric methods are known as visual binaries. For most of the known visual binary stars one whole revolution has not been observed yet, they are observed to have travelled along a curved path or a partial arc; the more general term double star is used for pairs of stars which are seen to be close together in the sky. This distinction is made in languages other than English. Double stars may be binary systems or may be two stars that appear to be close together in the sky but have vastly different true distances from the Sun; the latter are termed optical optical pairs. Since the invention of the telescope, many pairs of double stars have been found. Early examples include Acrux. Mizar, in the Big Dipper, was observed to be double by Giovanni Battista Riccioli in 1650; the bright southern star Acrux, in the Southern Cross, was discovered to be double by Father Fontenay in 1685.
John Michell was the first to suggest that double stars might be physically attached to each other when he argued in 1767 that the probability that a double star was due to a chance alignment was small. William Herschel began observing double stars in 1779 and soon thereafter published catalogs of about 700 double stars. By 1803, he had observed changes in the relative positions in a number of double stars over the course of 25 years, concluded that they must be binary systems. Since this time, many more double stars have been measured; the Washington Double Star Catalog, a database of visual double stars compiled by the United States Naval Observatory, contains over 100,000 pairs of double stars, including optical doubles as well as binary stars. Orbits are known for only a few thousand of these double stars, most have not been ascertained to be either true binaries or optical double stars; this can be determined by observing the relative motion of the pairs. If the motion is part of an orbit, or if the stars have similar radial velocities and the difference in their proper motions is small compared to their common proper motion, the pair is physical.
One of the tasks that remains for visual observers of double stars is to obtain sufficient observations to prove or disprove gravitational connection. Binary stars are classified into four types accordi
The astronomical unit is a unit of length the distance from Earth to the Sun. However, that distance varies as Earth orbits the Sun, from a maximum to a minimum and back again once a year. Conceived as the average of Earth's aphelion and perihelion, since 2012 it has been defined as 149597870700 metres or about 150 million kilometres; the astronomical unit is used for measuring distances within the Solar System or around other stars. It is a fundamental component in the definition of another unit of astronomical length, the parsec. A variety of unit symbols and abbreviations have been in use for the astronomical unit. In a 1976 resolution, the International Astronomical Union used the symbol A to denote a length equal to the astronomical unit. In the astronomical literature, the symbol AU was common. In 2006, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures recommended ua as the symbol for the unit. In the non-normative Annex C to ISO 80000-3, the symbol of the astronomical unit is "ua". In 2012, the IAU, noting "that various symbols are presently in use for the astronomical unit", recommended the use of the symbol "au".
In the 2014 revision of the SI Brochure, the BIPM used the unit symbol "au". Earth's orbit around the Sun is an ellipse; the semi-major axis of this elliptic orbit is defined to be half of the straight line segment that joins the perihelion and aphelion. The centre of the Sun lies on this straight line segment, but not at its midpoint; because ellipses are well-understood shapes, measuring the points of its extremes defined the exact shape mathematically, made possible calculations for the entire orbit as well as predictions based on observation. In addition, it mapped out the largest straight-line distance that Earth traverses over the course of a year, defining times and places for observing the largest parallax in nearby stars. Knowing Earth's shift and a star's shift enabled the star's distance to be calculated, but all measurements are subject to some degree of error or uncertainty, the uncertainties in the length of the astronomical unit only increased uncertainties in the stellar distances.
Improvements in precision have always been a key to improving astronomical understanding. Throughout the twentieth century, measurements became precise and sophisticated, more dependent on accurate observation of the effects described by Einstein's theory of relativity and upon the mathematical tools it used. Improving measurements were continually checked and cross-checked by means of improved understanding of the laws of celestial mechanics, which govern the motions of objects in space; the expected positions and distances of objects at an established time are calculated from these laws, assembled into a collection of data called an ephemeris. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory HORIZONS System provides one of several ephemeris computation services. In 1976, in order to establish a yet more precise measure for the astronomical unit, the IAU formally adopted a new definition. Although directly based on the then-best available observational measurements, the definition was recast in terms of the then-best mathematical derivations from celestial mechanics and planetary ephemerides.
It stated that "the astronomical unit of length is that length for which the Gaussian gravitational constant takes the value 0.01720209895 when the units of measurement are the astronomical units of length and time". Equivalently, by this definition, one AU is "the radius of an unperturbed circular Newtonian orbit about the sun of a particle having infinitesimal mass, moving with an angular frequency of 0.01720209895 radians per day". Subsequent explorations of the Solar System by space probes made it possible to obtain precise measurements of the relative positions of the inner planets and other objects by means of radar and telemetry; as with all radar measurements, these rely on measuring the time taken for photons to be reflected from an object. Because all photons move at the speed of light in vacuum, a fundamental constant of the universe, the distance of an object from the probe is calculated as the product of the speed of light and the measured time. However, for precision the calculations require adjustment for things such as the motions of the probe and object while the photons are transiting.
In addition, the measurement of the time itself must be translated to a standard scale that accounts for relativistic time dilation. Comparison of the ephemeris positions with time measurements expressed in the TDB scale leads to a value for the speed of light in astronomical units per day. By 2009, the IAU had updated its standard measures to reflect improvements, calculated the speed of light at 173.1446326847 AU/d. In 1983, the International Committee for Weights and Measures modified the International System of Units to make the metre defined as the distance travelled in a vacuum by light in 1/299792458 second; this replaced the previous definition, valid between 1960 and 1983, that the metre equalled a certain number of wavelengths of a certain emission line of krypton-86. The speed of light could be expressed as c0 = 299792458 m/s, a standard adopted by the IERS numerical standards. From this definition and the 2009 IAU standard, the time for light to traverse an AU is found to be