An hour is a unit of time conventionally reckoned as 1⁄24 of a day and scientifically reckoned as 3,599–3,601 seconds, depending on conditions. The hour was established in the ancient Near East as a variable measure of 1⁄12 of the night or daytime; such seasonal, temporal, or unequal hours varied by latitude. The hour was subsequently divided into each of 60 seconds. Equal or equinoctial hours were taken as 1⁄24 of the day. Since this unit was not constant due to long term variations in the Earth's rotation, the hour was separated from the Earth's rotation and defined in terms of the atomic or physical second. In the modern metric system, hours are an accepted unit of time defined as 3,600 atomic seconds. However, on rare occasions an hour may incorporate a positive or negative leap second, making it last 3,599 or 3,601 seconds, in order to keep it within 0.9 seconds of UT1, based on measurements of the mean solar day. The modern English word hour is a development of the Anglo-Norman houre and Middle English ure, first attested in the 13th century.
It displaced the Old English "tide" and "stound". The Anglo-Norman term was a borrowing of Old French ure, a variant of ore, which derived from Latin hōra and Greek hṓrā. Like Old English tīd and stund, hṓrā was a vaguer word for any span of time, including seasons and years, its Proto-Indo-European root has been reconstructed as *yeh₁-, making hour distantly cognate with year. The time of day is expressed in English in terms of hours. Whole hours on a 12-hour clock are expressed using the contracted phrase o'clock, from the older of clock. Hours on a 24-hour clock are expressed as "hundred" or "hundred hours". Fifteen and thirty minutes past the hour is expressed as "a quarter past" or "after" and "half past" from their fraction of the hour. Fifteen minutes before the hour may be expressed as "a quarter to", "of", "till", or "before" the hour; the ancient Egyptians began dividing the night into wnwt at some time before the compilation of the Dynasty V Pyramid Texts in the 24th century BC. By 2150 BC, diagrams of stars inside Egyptian coffin lids—variously known as "diagonal calendars" or "star clocks"—attest that there were 12 of these.
Clagett writes that it is "certain" this duodecimal division of the night followed the adoption of the Egyptian civil calendar placed c. 2800 BC on the basis of analyses of the Sothic cycle, but a lunar calendar long predated this and would have had twelve months in each of its years. The coffin diagrams show that the Egyptians took note of the heliacal risings of 36 stars or constellations, one for each of the ten-day "weeks" of their civil calendar; each night, the rising of eleven of these decans were noted, separating the night into twelve divisions whose middle terms would have lasted about 40 minutes each. The original decans used by the Egyptians would have fallen noticeably out of their proper places over a span of several centuries. By the time of Amenhotep III, the priests at Karnak were using water clocks to determine the hours; these were filled to the brim at sunset and the hour determined by comparing the water level against one of its twelve gauges, one for each month of the year.
During the New Kingdom, another system of decans was used, made up of 24 stars over the course of the year and 12 within any one night. The division of the day into 12 hours was accomplished by sundials marked with ten equal divisions; the morning and evening periods when the sundials failed to note time were observed as the first and last hours. The Egyptian hours were connected both with the priesthood of the gods and with their divine services. By the New Kingdom, each hour was conceived as a specific region of the sky or underworld through which Ra's solar barge travelled. Protective deities were used as the names of the hours; as the protectors and resurrectors of the sun, the goddesses of the night hours were considered to hold power over all lifespans and thus became part of Egyptian funerary rituals. Two fire-spitting cobras were said to guard the gates of each hour of the underworld, Wadjet and the rearing cobra were sometimes referenced as wnwt from their role protecting the dead through these gates.
The Egyptian for astronomer, used as a synonym for priest, was wnwty, "One of the Hours" or "Hour-Watcher". The earliest forms of wnwt include one or three stars, with the solar hours including the determinative hieroglyph for "sun". Ancient China divided its day into 100 "marks" running from midnight to midnight; the system is said to have been used since remote antiquity, credited to the legendary Yellow Emperor, but is first attested in Han-era water clocks and in the 2nd-century history of that dynasty. It was measured with sundials and water clocks. Into the Eastern Han, the Chinese measured their day schematically, adding the 20-ke difference between the solstices evenly throughout the year, one every nine days. During the night, time was more commonly
Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius "Max" Wolf was a German astronomer and a pioneer in the field of astrophotography. He was chairman of astronomy at the University of Heidelberg and director of the Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory from 1902 until his death. Max Wolf was born in Germany on June 21, 1863, the son of medical doctor Franz Wolf, his father encouraged an interest in science and built an observatory for his son in the garden of the family home. It is from here that Wolf was credited with his first astronomical discovery, comet 14P/Wolf, in 1884. Wolf attended his local university and, in 1888, at the age of 25, was awarded a Ph. D. by the University of Heidelberg. He spent one year of post-graduate study in Stockholm, the only significant time he would spend outside of Heidelberg in his life, he returned to the University of Heidelberg and accepted the position of privat-docent in 1890. A popular lecturer in astronomy, he declined offers of positions from other institutions. In 1902 he was appointed Chair of Astronomy and Director of the new Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl observatory, positions he would hold until his death in 1932.
While the new observatory was being built Wolf was appointed to supervise the construction and outfitting of the astrophysics half of the observatory. He proved to be not only a capable supervisor but a successful fundraiser; when sent to America to study the construction of the large new telescopes being built there he returned not only with telescope plans but with a grant of $10,000 from the American philanthropist Catherine Wolfe Bruce. Wolf designed and ordered a double refractor telescope from American astronomer and instrument builder John Brashear; this instrument, known as the Bruce double-astrograph, with parallel 16 in lenses and a fast f/5 focal ratio, became the observatory's primary research telescope. Wolf raised money for a 28 in reflector telescope, the first for the observatory, used for spectroscopy. In 1910 Wolf proposed to the Carl Zeiss optics firm the creation of a new instrument which would become known as the planetarium. World War I intervened before the invention could be developed, but the Carl Zeiss company resumed this project after peace was restored.
The first official public showing was at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany on October 21, 1923. During his trip to America Wolf was interested in learning more about the new field of astrophotography, he met the American astronomer and astrophotographer E. E. Barnard, the two became lifelong correspondents, competitors and friends. Wolf wrote a long obituary for Barnard upon his death in 1923. Heidelberg University became well known for astronomy under Wolf's leadership. Wolf himself was an active researcher, contributing numerous papers in many areas of astronomy up to the end of his life, he died in Heidelberg on October 3, 1932, at the age of 69. He was survived by three sons. Wolf continued to discover them throughout his life, he co-discovered several comets, including 14P/Wolf and 43P/Wolf-Harrington. Wolf won a competition with E. E. Barnard on who would be the first to observe the return of Halley's Comet in April 1910, he discovered or co-discovered four supernovae: SN 1895A, SN 1909A, SN 1920A, with Reinmuth, SN 1926A.
One of the many significant contributions Wolf made was in the determination of the nature of dark nebulae. These areas of the sky, thought since William Herschel's time to be "holes in the sky", were a puzzle to astronomers of the time. In collaboration with E. E. Barnard, Wolf proved, by careful photographic analysis, that dark nebulae were huge clouds of fine opaque dust. Along with E. E. Barnard, Wolf applied astrophotography to the observation of stars; the Bruce double-astrograph was designed to hunt dim asteroids but it was found to be ideally suited for the study of the proper motion of low-luminosity stars using much the same technique. In 1919 Wolf published a catalog of the locations of over one thousand stars along with their measured proper motion; these stars are still identified by his name and catalog number. Among the stars he discovered is Wolf 359, a dim red dwarf, found to be one of the nearest stars to our solar system, he continued to add proper motion star discoveries to this catalog throughout his life, with the catalog totaling over 1500 stars, many more than all of his competitors combined.
These stars are significant because stars with low luminosity and high proper motion, such as Barnard's Star and Wolf 359, are relatively close to the Earth and thus the stars in Wolf's catalog remain popular subjects for astronomical research. The methods used by E. E. Barnard and Wolf were continued by Frank Elmore Ross and George Van Biesbroeck through the mid-20th century. Since that time photographic plates have been replaced with more sensitive electronic photodetectors for astronomical surveys. In 1891, Wolf discovered his first asteroid, 323 Brucia, named it after Catherine Wolfe Bruce, he pioneered the use of astrophotographic techniques to automate the discovery of asteroids, as opposed to older visual methods, as a result of which asteroid discovery rates increased. In time-exposure photographs, asteroids appear as short streaks due to their planetary motion with respect to fixed stars. Wolf discovered more than 200 asteroids in his lifetime. Among his many discoveries was 588 Achilles in 1906, as well as two other Trojans: 659 Nestor and 884 Priamus.
He discovered 887 Alinda in 1918, now recognized as an Earth-crossing Amor asteroid (or sometimes classified as
The ecliptic is the mean plane of the apparent path in the Earth's sky that the Sun follows over the course of one year. This plane of reference is coplanar with Earth's orbit around the Sun; the ecliptic is not noticeable from Earth's surface because the planet's rotation carries the observer through the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, which obscure the Sun's apparent motion against the background of stars during the year. The motions as described above are simplifications. Due to the movement of Earth around the Earth–Moon center of mass, the apparent path of the Sun wobbles with a period of about one month. Due to further perturbations by the other planets of the Solar System, the Earth–Moon barycenter wobbles around a mean position in a complex fashion; the ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun throughout the course of a year. Because Earth takes one year to orbit the Sun, the apparent position of the Sun takes one year to make a complete circuit of the ecliptic. With more than 365 days in one year, the Sun moves a little less than 1° eastward every day.
This small difference in the Sun's position against the stars causes any particular spot on Earth's surface to catch up with the Sun about four minutes each day than it would if Earth would not orbit. Again, this is a simplification, based on a hypothetical Earth that orbits at uniform speed around the Sun; the actual speed with which Earth orbits the Sun varies during the year, so the speed with which the Sun seems to move along the ecliptic varies. For example, the Sun is north of the celestial equator for about 185 days of each year, south of it for about 180 days; the variation of orbital speed accounts for part of the equation of time. Because Earth's rotational axis is not perpendicular to its orbital plane, Earth's equatorial plane is not coplanar with the ecliptic plane, but is inclined to it by an angle of about 23.4°, known as the obliquity of the ecliptic. If the equator is projected outward to the celestial sphere, forming the celestial equator, it crosses the ecliptic at two points known as the equinoxes.
The Sun, in its apparent motion along the ecliptic, crosses the celestial equator at these points, one from south to north, the other from north to south. The crossing from south to north is known as the vernal equinox known as the first point of Aries and the ascending node of the ecliptic on the celestial equator; the crossing from north to south is descending node. The orientation of Earth's axis and equator are not fixed in space, but rotate about the poles of the ecliptic with a period of about 26,000 years, a process known as lunisolar precession, as it is due to the gravitational effect of the Moon and Sun on Earth's equatorial bulge; the ecliptic itself is not fixed. The gravitational perturbations of the other bodies of the Solar System cause a much smaller motion of the plane of Earth's orbit, hence of the ecliptic, known as planetary precession; the combined action of these two motions is called general precession, changes the position of the equinoxes by about 50 arc seconds per year.
Once again, this is a simplification. Periodic motions of the Moon and apparent periodic motions of the Sun cause short-term small-amplitude periodic oscillations of Earth's axis, hence the celestial equator, known as nutation; this adds a periodic component to the position of the equinoxes. Obliquity of the ecliptic is the term used by astronomers for the inclination of Earth's equator with respect to the ecliptic, or of Earth's rotation axis to a perpendicular to the ecliptic, it is about 23.4° and is decreasing 0.013 degrees per hundred years due to planetary perturbations. The angular value of the obliquity is found by observation of the motions of Earth and other planets over many years. Astronomers produce new fundamental ephemerides as the accuracy of observation improves and as the understanding of the dynamics increases, from these ephemerides various astronomical values, including the obliquity, are derived; until 1983 the obliquity for any date was calculated from work of Newcomb, who analyzed positions of the planets until about 1895: ε = 23° 27′ 08″.26 − 46″.845 T − 0″.0059 T2 + 0″.00181 T3 where ε is the obliquity and T is tropical centuries from B1900.0 to the date in question.
From 1984, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's DE series of computer-generated ephemerides took over as the fundamental ephemeris of the Astronomical Almanac. Obliquity based on DE200, which analyzed observations from 1911 to 1979, was calculated: ε = 23° 26′ 21″.45 − 46″.815 T − 0″.0006 T2 + 0″.00181 T3 where hereafter T is Julian centuries from J2000.0. JPL's fundamental ephemerides have been continually updated; the Astronomical Almanac for 2010 specifies:ε = 23° 26′ 21″.406 − 46″.836769 T − 0″.0001831 T2 + 0″.00200340 T3 − 0″.576×10−6 T4 − 4″.34×10−8 T5 These expressions for the obliquity are intended for high precision over a short time span ± several centuries. J. Laskar computed an expression to order T10 good to 0″.04/1000 years over 10,000 years. All of these expressions are for the mean obliquity, that is, without the nutation of the equator included; the true or instantaneous obliquity includes the nutation. Most of the major bodies of the Solar System o
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical object is a parameter that determines the amount by which its orbit around another body deviates from a perfect circle. A value of 0 is a circular orbit, values between 0 and 1 form an elliptic orbit, 1 is a parabolic escape orbit, greater than 1 is a hyperbola; the term derives its name from the parameters of conic sections, as every Kepler orbit is a conic section. It is used for the isolated two-body problem, but extensions exist for objects following a Klemperer rosette orbit through the galaxy. In a two-body problem with inverse-square-law force, every orbit is a Kepler orbit; the eccentricity of this Kepler orbit is a non-negative number. The eccentricity may take the following values: circular orbit: e = 0 elliptic orbit: 0 < e < 1 parabolic trajectory: e = 1 hyperbolic trajectory: e > 1 The eccentricity e is given by e = 1 + 2 E L 2 m red α 2 where E is the total orbital energy, L is the angular momentum, mred is the reduced mass, α the coefficient of the inverse-square law central force such as gravity or electrostatics in classical physics: F = α r 2 or in the case of a gravitational force: e = 1 + 2 ε h 2 μ 2 where ε is the specific orbital energy, μ the standard gravitational parameter based on the total mass, h the specific relative angular momentum.
For values of e from 0 to 1 the orbit's shape is an elongated ellipse. The limit case between an ellipse and a hyperbola, when e equals 1, is parabola. Radial trajectories are classified as elliptic, parabolic, or hyperbolic based on the energy of the orbit, not the eccentricity. Radial orbits hence eccentricity equal to one. Keeping the energy constant and reducing the angular momentum, elliptic and hyperbolic orbits each tend to the corresponding type of radial trajectory while e tends to 1. For a repulsive force only the hyperbolic trajectory, including the radial version, is applicable. For elliptical orbits, a simple proof shows that arcsin yields the projection angle of a perfect circle to an ellipse of eccentricity e. For example, to view the eccentricity of the planet Mercury, one must calculate the inverse sine to find the projection angle of 11.86 degrees. Next, tilt any circular object by that angle and the apparent ellipse projected to your eye will be of that same eccentricity; the word "eccentricity" comes from Medieval Latin eccentricus, derived from Greek ἔκκεντρος ekkentros "out of the center", from ἐκ- ek-, "out of" + κέντρον kentron "center".
"Eccentric" first appeared in English in 1551, with the definition "a circle in which the earth, sun. Etc. deviates from its center". By five years in 1556, an adjectival form of the word had developed; the eccentricity of an orbit can be calculated from the orbital state vectors as the magnitude of the eccentricity vector: e = | e | where: e is the eccentricity vector. For elliptical orbits it can be calculated from the periapsis and apoapsis since rp = a and ra = a, where a is the semimajor axis. E = r a − r p r a + r p = 1 − 2 r a r p + 1 where: ra is the radius at apoapsis. Rp is the radius at periapsis; the eccentricity of an elliptical orbit can be used to obtain the ratio of the periapsis to the apoapsis: r p r a = 1 − e 1 + e For Earth, orbital eccentricity ≈ 0.0167, apoapsis= aphelion and periapsis= perihelion relative to sun. For Earth's annual orbit path, ra/rp ratio = longest_radius / shortest_radius ≈ 1.034 relative to center point of path. The eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is about 0.0167.
Asteroids are minor planets of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have been called planetoids; these terms have been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets; as a result, they were distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter. There exist millions of asteroids, many thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals, bodies within the young Sun's solar nebula that never grew large enough to become planets; the vast majority of known asteroids orbit within the main asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, or are co-orbital with Jupiter. However, other orbital families exist with significant populations, including the near-Earth objects.
Individual asteroids are classified by their characteristic spectra, with the majority falling into three main groups: C-type, M-type, S-type. These were named after and are identified with carbon-rich and silicate compositions, respectively; the sizes of asteroids varies greatly. Asteroids are differentiated from meteoroids. In the case of comets, the difference is one of composition: while asteroids are composed of mineral and rock, comets are composed of dust and ice. Furthermore, asteroids formed closer to the sun; the difference between asteroids and meteoroids is one of size: meteoroids have a diameter of one meter or less, whereas asteroids have a diameter of greater than one meter. Meteoroids can be composed of either cometary or asteroidal materials. Only one asteroid, 4 Vesta, which has a reflective surface, is visible to the naked eye, this only in dark skies when it is favorably positioned. Small asteroids passing close to Earth may be visible to the naked eye for a short time; as of October 2017, the Minor Planet Center had data on 745,000 objects in the inner and outer Solar System, of which 504,000 had enough information to be given numbered designations.
The United Nations declared 30 June as International Asteroid Day to educate the public about asteroids. The date of International Asteroid Day commemorates the anniversary of the Tunguska asteroid impact over Siberia, Russian Federation, on 30 June 1908. In April 2018, the B612 Foundation reported "It's 100 percent certain we'll be hit, but we're not 100 percent sure when." In 2018, physicist Stephen Hawking, in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions, considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet. In June 2018, the US National Science and Technology Council warned that America is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, has developed and released the "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan" to better prepare. According to expert testimony in the United States Congress in 2013, NASA would require at least five years of preparation before a mission to intercept an asteroid could be launched; the first asteroid to be discovered, was considered to be a new planet.
This was followed by the discovery of other similar bodies, with the equipment of the time, appeared to be points of light, like stars, showing little or no planetary disc, though distinguishable from stars due to their apparent motions. This prompted the astronomer Sir William Herschel to propose the term "asteroid", coined in Greek as ἀστεροειδής, or asteroeidēs, meaning'star-like, star-shaped', derived from the Ancient Greek ἀστήρ astēr'star, planet'. In the early second half of the nineteenth century, the terms "asteroid" and "planet" were still used interchangeably. Overview of discovery timeline: 10 by 1849 1 Ceres, 1801 2 Pallas – 1802 3 Juno – 1804 4 Vesta – 1807 5 Astraea – 1845 in 1846, planet Neptune was discovered 6 Hebe – July 1847 7 Iris – August 1847 8 Flora – October 1847 9 Metis – 25 April 1848 10 Hygiea – 12 April 1849 tenth asteroid discovered 100 asteroids by 1868 1,000 by 1921 10,000 by 1989 100,000 by 2005 ~700,000 by 2015 Asteroid discovery methods have improved over the past two centuries.
In the last years of the 18th century, Baron Franz Xaver von Zach organized a group of 24 astronomers to search the sky for the missing planet predicted at about 2.8 AU from the Sun by the Titius-Bode law because of the discovery, by Sir William Herschel in 1781, of the planet Uranus at the distance predicted by the law. This task required that hand-drawn sky charts be prepared for all stars in the zodiacal band down to an agreed-upon limit of faintness. On subsequent nights, the sky would be charted again and any moving object would be spotted; the expected motion of the missing planet was about 30 seconds of arc per hour discernible by observers. The first object, was not discovered by a member of the group, but rather by accident in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, director of the observatory of Palermo in Sicily, he discovered a new star-like object in Taurus and followed the displacement of this object during several nights. That year, Carl Friedrich Gauss used these observations to calculate the orbit of this unknown object, found to be between the planets Mars and Jupiter.
Piazzi named it after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Three other asteroids (2 Pallas, 3 Juno, 4 Ves
An asteroid family is a population of asteroids that share similar proper orbital elements, such as semimajor axis and orbital inclination. The members of the families are thought to be fragments of past asteroid collisions. An asteroid family is a more specific term than asteroid group whose members, while sharing some broad orbital characteristics, may be otherwise unrelated to each other. Large prominent families contain several hundred recognized asteroids. Small, compact families may have only about ten identified members. About 33% to 35% of asteroids in the main belt are family members. There are about 20 to 30 reliably recognized families, with several tens of less certain groupings. Most asteroid families are found in the main asteroid belt, although several family-like groups such as the Pallas family, Hungaria family, the Phocaea family lie at smaller semi-major axis or larger inclination than the main belt. One family has been identified associated with the dwarf planet Haumea; some studies have tried to find evidence of collisional families among the trojan asteroids, but at present the evidence is inconclusive.
The families are thought to form as a result of collisions between asteroids. In many or most cases the parent body was shattered, but there are several families which resulted from a large cratering event which did not disrupt the parent body; such cratering families consist of a single large body and a swarm of asteroids that are much smaller. Some families have complex internal structures which are not satisfactorily explained at the moment, but may be due to several collisions in the same region at different times. Due to the method of origin, all the members have matching compositions for most families. Notable exceptions are those families. Asteroid families are thought to have lifetimes of the order of a billion years, depending on various factors; this is shorter than the Solar System's age, so few if any are relics of the early Solar System. Decay of families occurs both because of slow dissipation of the orbits due to perturbations from Jupiter or other large bodies, because of collisions between asteroids which grind them down to small bodies.
Such small asteroids become subject to perturbations such as the Yarkovsky effect that can push them towards orbital resonances with Jupiter over time. Once there, they are rapidly ejected from the asteroid belt. Tentative age estimates have been obtained for some families, ranging from hundreds of millions of years to less than several million years as for the compact Karin family. Old families are thought to contain few small members, this is the basis of the age determinations, it is supposed that many old families have lost all the smaller and medium-sized members, leaving only a few of the largest intact. A suggested example of such old family remains are 113 Amalthea pair. Further evidence for a large number of past families comes from analysis of chemical ratios in iron meteorites; these show that there must have once been at least 50 to 100 parent bodies large enough to be differentiated, that have since been shattered to expose their cores and produce the actual meteorites. When the orbital elements of main belt asteroids are plotted, a number of distinct concentrations are seen against the rather uniform distribution of non-family background asteroids.
These concentrations are the asteroid families. Interlopers are asteroids classified as family members based on their so-called proper orbital elements but having spectroscopic properties distinct from the bulk of the family, suggesting that they, contrary to the true family members, did not originate from the same parent body that once fragmented upon a collisional impact. Speaking and their membership are identified by analysing the proper orbital elements rather than the current osculating orbital elements, which fluctuate on timescales of tens of thousands of years; the proper elements are related constants of motion that remain constant for times of at least tens of millions of years, longer. The Japanese astronomer Kiyotsugu Hirayama pioneered the estimation of proper elements for asteroids, first identified several of the most prominent families in 1918. In his honor, asteroid families are sometimes called Hirayama families; this applies to the five prominent groupings discovered by him.
Present day computer-assisted searches have identified more than a hundred asteroid families. The most prominent algorithms have been the hierarchical clustering method, which looks for groupings with small nearest-neighbour distances in orbital element space, wavelet analysis, which builds a density-of-asteroids map in orbital element space, looks for density peaks; the boundaries of the families are somewhat vague because at the edges they blend into the background density of asteroids in the main belt. For this reason the number of members among discovered asteroids is only known and membership is uncertain for asteroids near the edges. Additionally, some interlopers from the heterogeneous background asteroid population are expected in the central regions of a family. Since the true family members caused by the collision are expected to have similar compositions, most such interlopers can in principle be recognised by spectral properties which do not matc
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