Hipparcos was a scientific satellite of the European Space Agency, launched in 1989 and operated until 1993. It was the first space experiment devoted to precision astrometry, the accurate measurement of the positions of celestial objects on the sky; this permitted the accurate determination of proper motions and parallaxes of stars, allowing a determination of their distance and tangential velocity. When combined with radial velocity measurements from spectroscopy, this pinpointed all six quantities needed to determine the motion of stars; the resulting Hipparcos Catalogue, a high-precision catalogue of more than 118,200 stars, was published in 1997. The lower-precision Tycho Catalogue of more than a million stars was published at the same time, while the enhanced Tycho-2 Catalogue of 2.5 million stars was published in 2000. Hipparcos' follow-up mission, was launched in 2013; the word "Hipparcos" is an acronym for HIgh Precision PARallax COllecting Satellite and a reference to the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea, noted for applications of trigonometry to astronomy and his discovery of the precession of the equinoxes.
By the second half of the 20th century, the accurate measurement of star positions from the ground was running into insurmountable barriers to improvements in accuracy for large-angle measurements and systematic terms. Problems were dominated by the effects of the Earth's atmosphere, but were compounded by complex optical terms and gravitational instrument flexures, the absence of all-sky visibility. A formal proposal to make these exacting observations from space was first put forward in 1967. Although proposed to the French space agency CNES, it was considered too complex and expensive for a single national programme, its acceptance within the European Space Agency's scientific programme, in 1980, was the result of a lengthy process of study and lobbying. The underlying scientific motivation was to determine the physical properties of the stars through the measurement of their distances and space motions, thus to place theoretical studies of stellar structure and evolution, studies of galactic structure and kinematics, on a more secure empirical basis.
Observationally, the objective was to provide the positions and annual proper motions for some 100,000 stars with an unprecedented accuracy of 0.002 arcseconds, a target in practice surpassed by a factor of two. The name of the space telescope, "Hipparcos" was an acronym for High Precision Parallax Collecting Satellite, it reflected the name of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, considered the founder of trigonometry and the discoverer of the precession of the equinoxes; the spacecraft carried a single all-reflective, eccentric Schmidt telescope, with an aperture of 29 cm. A special beam-combining mirror superimposed two fields of view, 58 degrees apart, into the common focal plane; this complex mirror consisted of two mirrors tilted in opposite directions, each occupying half of the rectangular entrance pupil, providing an unvignetted field of view of about 1°×1°. The telescope used a system of grids, at the focal surface, composed of 2688 alternate opaque and transparent bands, with a period of 1.208 arc-sec.
Behind this grid system, an image dissector tube with a sensitive field of view of about 38-arc-sec diameter converted the modulated light into a sequence of photon counts from which the phase of the entire pulse train from a star could be derived. The apparent angle between two stars in the combined fields of view, modulo the grid period, was obtained from the phase difference of the two star pulse trains. Targeting the observation of some 100,000 stars, with an astrometric accuracy of about 0.002 arc-sec, the final Hipparcos Catalogue comprised nearly 120,000 stars with a median accuracy of better than 0.001 arc-sec. An additional photomultiplier system viewed a beam splitter in the optical path and was used as a star mapper, its purpose was to monitor and determine the satellite attitude, in the process, to gather photometric and astrometric data of all stars down to about 11th magnitude. These measurements were made in two broad bands corresponding to B and V in the UBV photometric system.
The positions of these latter stars were to be determined to a precision of 0.03 arc-sec, a factor of 25 less than the main mission stars. Targeting the observation of around 400,000 stars, the resulting Tycho Catalogue comprised just over 1 million stars, with a subsequent analysis extending this to the Tycho-2 Catalogue of about 2.5 million stars. The attitude of the spacecraft about its center of gravity was controlled to scan the celestial sphere in a regular precessional motion maintaining a constant inclination between the spin axis and the direction to the Sun; the spacecraft spun around its Z-axis at the rate of 11.25 revolutions/day at an angle of 43° to the Sun. The Z-axis rotated about the sun-satellite line at 6.4 revolutions/year. The spacecraft consisted of two platforms and six vertical panels, all made of aluminum honeycomb; the solar array consisted of three deployable sections. Two S-band antennas were located on the top and bottom of the spacecraft, providing an omni-directional downlink data rate of 24 kbit/s.
An attitude and orbit-control subsystem ensured correct dynamic attitude control and determination during the operational lifetim
In astronomy, stellar classification is the classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. Electromagnetic radiation from the star is analyzed by splitting it with a prism or diffraction grating into a spectrum exhibiting the rainbow of colors interspersed with spectral lines; each line indicates a particular chemical element or molecule, with the line strength indicating the abundance of that element. The strengths of the different spectral lines vary due to the temperature of the photosphere, although in some cases there are true abundance differences; the spectral class of a star is a short code summarizing the ionization state, giving an objective measure of the photosphere's temperature. Most stars are classified under the Morgan-Keenan system using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, M, a sequence from the hottest to the coolest; each letter class is subdivided using a numeric digit with 0 being hottest and 9 being coolest. The sequence has been expanded with classes for other stars and star-like objects that do not fit in the classical system, such as class D for white dwarfs and classes S and C for carbon stars.
In the MK system, a luminosity class is added to the spectral class using Roman numerals. This is based on the width of certain absorption lines in the star's spectrum, which vary with the density of the atmosphere and so distinguish giant stars from dwarfs. Luminosity class 0 or Ia+ is used for hypergiants, class I for supergiants, class II for bright giants, class III for regular giants, class IV for sub-giants, class V for main-sequence stars, class sd for sub-dwarfs, class D for white dwarfs; the full spectral class for the Sun is G2V, indicating a main-sequence star with a temperature around 5,800 K. The conventional color description takes into account only the peak of the stellar spectrum. In actuality, stars radiate in all parts of the spectrum; because all spectral colors combined appear white, the actual apparent colors the human eye would observe are far lighter than the conventional color descriptions would suggest. This characteristic of'lightness' indicates that the simplified assignment of colors within the spectrum can be misleading.
Excluding color-contrast illusions in dim light, there are indigo, or violet stars. Red dwarfs are a deep shade of orange, brown dwarfs do not appear brown, but hypothetically would appear dim grey to a nearby observer; the modern classification system is known as the Morgan–Keenan classification. Each star is assigned a spectral class from the older Harvard spectral classification and a luminosity class using Roman numerals as explained below, forming the star's spectral type. Other modern stellar classification systems, such as the UBV system, are based on color indexes—the measured differences in three or more color magnitudes; those numbers are given labels such as "U-V" or "B-V", which represent the colors passed by two standard filters. The Harvard system is a one-dimensional classification scheme by astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, who re-ordered and simplified a prior alphabetical system. Stars are grouped according to their spectral characteristics by single letters of the alphabet, optionally with numeric subdivisions.
Main-sequence stars vary in surface temperature from 2,000 to 50,000 K, whereas more-evolved stars can have temperatures above 100,000 K. Physically, the classes indicate the temperature of the star's atmosphere and are listed from hottest to coldest; the spectral classes O through M, as well as other more specialized classes discussed are subdivided by Arabic numerals, where 0 denotes the hottest stars of a given class. For example, A0 denotes A9 denotes the coolest ones. Fractional numbers are allowed; the Sun is classified as G2. Conventional color descriptions are traditional in astronomy, represent colors relative to the mean color of an A class star, considered to be white; the apparent color descriptions are what the observer would see if trying to describe the stars under a dark sky without aid to the eye, or with binoculars. However, most stars in the sky, except the brightest ones, appear white or bluish white to the unaided eye because they are too dim for color vision to work. Red supergiants are cooler and redder than dwarfs of the same spectral type, stars with particular spectral features such as carbon stars may be far redder than any black body.
The fact that the Harvard classification of a star indicated its surface or photospheric temperature was not understood until after its development, though by the time the first Hertzsprung–Russell diagram was formulated, this was suspected to be true. In the 1920s, the Indian physicist Meghnad Saha derived a theory of ionization by extending well-known ideas in physical chemistry pertaining to the dissociation of molecules to the ionization of atoms. First he applied it to the solar chromosphere to stellar spectra. Harvard astronomer Cecilia Payne demonstrated that the O-B-A-F-G-K-M spectral sequence is a sequence in temperature; because the classification sequence predates our understanding that it is a temperature sequence, the placement of a spectrum into a given subtype, such as B3 or A7, depends upon estimates of the strengths of absorption features in stellar spectra. As a result, these subtypes are not evenly divided into any sort of mathematically representable intervals; the Yerkes spectral classification called the MKK system from the authors' initial
A star catalogue or star catalog, is an astronomical catalogue that lists stars. In astronomy, many stars are referred to by catalogue numbers. There are a great many different star catalogues which have been produced for different purposes over the years, this article covers only some of the more quoted ones. Star catalogues were compiled by many different ancient people, including the Babylonians, Chinese and Arabs, they were sometimes accompanied by a star chart for illustration. Most modern catalogues are available in electronic format and can be downloaded from space agencies data centres. Completeness and accuracy is described by the weakest apparent magnitude V and the accuracy of the positions. From their existing records, it is known that the ancient Egyptians recorded the names of only a few identifiable constellations and a list of thirty-six decans that were used as a star clock; the Egyptians called the circumpolar star "the star that cannot perish" and, although they made no known formal star catalogues, they nonetheless created extensive star charts of the night sky which adorn the coffins and ceilings of tomb chambers.
Although the ancient Sumerians were the first to record the names of constellations on clay tablets, the earliest known star catalogues were compiled by the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia in the late 2nd millennium BC, during the Kassite Period. They are better known by their Assyrian-era name'Three Stars Each'; these star catalogues, written on clay tablets, listed thirty-six stars: twelve for "Anu" along the celestial equator, twelve for "Ea" south of that, twelve for "Enlil" to the north. The Mul. Apin lists, dated to sometime before the Neo-Babylonian Empire, are direct textual descendants of the "Three Stars Each" lists and their constellation patterns show similarities to those of Greek civilization. In Ancient Greece, the astronomer and mathematician Eudoxus laid down a full set of the classical constellations around 370 BC, his catalogue Phaenomena, rewritten by Aratus of Soli between 275 and 250 BC as a didactic poem, became one of the most consulted astronomical texts in antiquity and beyond.
It contains descriptions of the positions of the stars, the shapes of the constellations and provided information on their relative times of rising and setting. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek astronomers Timocharis of Alexandria and Aristillus created another star catalogue. Hipparchus completed his star catalogue in 129 BC, which he compared to Timocharis' and discovered that the longitude of the stars had changed over time; this led him to determine the first value of the precession of the equinoxes. In the 2nd century, Ptolemy of Roman Egypt published a star catalogue as part of his Almagest, which listed 1,022 stars visible from Alexandria. Ptolemy's catalogue was based entirely on an earlier one by Hipparchus, it remained the standard star catalogue in the Arab worlds for over eight centuries. The Islamic astronomer al-Sufi updated it in 964, the star positions were redetermined by Ulugh Beg in 1437, but it was not superseded until the appearance of the thousand-star catalogue of Tycho Brahe in 1598.
Although the ancient Vedas of India specified how the ecliptic was to be divided into twenty-eight nakshatra, Indian constellation patterns were borrowed from Greek ones sometime after Alexander's conquests in Asia in the 4th century BC. The earliest known inscriptions for Chinese star names were written on oracle bones and date to the Shang Dynasty. Sources dating from the Zhou Dynasty which provide star names include the Zuo Zhuan, the Shi Jing, the "Canon of Yao" in the Book of Documents; the Lüshi Chunqiu written by the Qin statesman Lü Buwei provides most of the names for the twenty-eight mansions. An earlier lacquerware chest found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng contains a complete list of the names of the twenty-eight mansions. Star catalogues are traditionally attributed to Shi Shen and Gan De, two rather obscure Chinese astronomers who may have been active in the 4th century BC of the Warring States period; the Shi Shen astronomy is attributed to Shi Shen, the Astronomic star observation to Gan De.
It was not until the Han Dynasty that astronomers started to observe and record names for all the stars that were apparent in the night sky, not just those around the ecliptic. A star catalogue is featured in one of the chapters of the late 2nd-century-BC history work Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and contains the "schools" of Shi Shen and Gan De's work. Sima's catalogue—the Book of Celestial Offices —includes some 90 constellations, the stars therein named after temples, ideas in philosophy, locations such as markets and shops, different people such as farmers and soldiers. For his Spiritual Constitution of the Universe of 120 AD, the astronomer Zhang Heng compiled a star catalogue comprising 124 constellations. Chinese constellation names were adopted by the Koreans and Japanese. A large number of star catalogues were published by Muslim astronomers in the medieval Islamic world; these were Zij treatises, including Arzachel's Tables of Toledo, the Maragheh observatory's Zij-i Ilkhani and Ulugh Beg's Zij-i-Sultani.
The effective temperature of a body such as a star or planet is the temperature of a black body that would emit the same total amount of electromagnetic radiation. Effective temperature is used as an estimate of a body's surface temperature when the body's emissivity curve is not known; when the star's or planet's net emissivity in the relevant wavelength band is less than unity, the actual temperature of the body will be higher than the effective temperature. The net emissivity may be low due to surface or atmospheric properties, including greenhouse effect; the effective temperature of a star is the temperature of a black body with the same luminosity per surface area as the star and is defined according to the Stefan–Boltzmann law FBol = σTeff4. Notice that the total luminosity of a star is L = 4πR2σTeff4, where R is the stellar radius; the definition of the stellar radius is not straightforward. More rigorously the effective temperature corresponds to the temperature at the radius, defined by a certain value of the Rosseland optical depth within the stellar atmosphere.
The effective temperature and the bolometric luminosity are the two fundamental physical parameters needed to place a star on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. Both effective temperature and bolometric luminosity depend on the chemical composition of a star; the effective temperature of our Sun is around 5780 kelvins. Stars have a decreasing temperature gradient; the "core temperature" of the Sun—the temperature at the centre of the Sun where nuclear reactions take place—is estimated to be 15,000,000 K. The color index of a star indicates its temperature from the cool—by stellar standards—red M stars that radiate in the infrared to the hot blue O stars that radiate in the ultraviolet; the effective temperature of a star indicates the amount of heat that the star radiates per unit of surface area. From the warmest surfaces to the coolest is the sequence of stellar classifications known as O, B, A, F, G, K, M. A red star could be a tiny red dwarf, a star of feeble energy production and a small surface or a bloated giant or supergiant star such as Antares or Betelgeuse, either of which generates far greater energy but passes it through a surface so large that the star radiates little per unit of surface area.
A star near the middle of the spectrum, such as the modest Sun or the giant Capella radiates more energy per unit of surface area than the feeble red dwarf stars or the bloated supergiants, but much less than such a white or blue star as Vega or Rigel. To find the effective temperature of a planet, it can be calculated by equating the power received by the planet to the known power emitted by a blackbody of temperature T. Take the case of a planet at a distance D from the star, of luminosity L. Assuming the star radiates isotropically and that the planet is a long way from the star, the power absorbed by the planet is given by treating the planet as a disc of radius r, which intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D; the calculation assumes the planet reflects some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo of 0 means all of it is absorbed; the expression for absorbed power is then: P a b s = L r 2 4 D 2 The next assumption we can make is that the entire planet is at the same temperature T, that the planet radiates as a blackbody.
The Stefan–Boltzmann law gives an expression for the power radiated by the planet: P r a d = 4 π r 2 σ T 4 Equating these two expressions and rearranging gives an expression for the effective temperature: T = L 16 π σ D 2 4 Note that the planet's radius has cancelled out of the final expression. The effective temperature for Jupiter from this calculation is 88 K and 51 Pegasi b is 1,258 K. A better estimate of effective temperature for some planets, such as Jupiter, would need to include the internal heating as a power input; the actual temperature depends on atmosphere effects. The actual temperature from spectroscopic analysis for HD 209458 b is 1,130 K, but the effective temperature is 1,359 K; the internal heating within Jupiter raises the effective temperature to about 152 K. The surface temperature of a planet can be estimated by modifying the effective-temperature calculation to account for emissivity and temperature variation; the area of the planet that absorbs the power from the star is Aabs, some fraction of the total surface area Atotal = 4πr2, where r is the radius of the planet.
This area intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D. We allow the planet to reflect some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter a called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo
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
Stellar parallax is the apparent shift of position of any nearby star against the background of distant objects. Created by the different orbital positions of Earth, the small observed shift is largest at time intervals of about six months, when Earth arrives at opposite sides of the Sun in its orbit, giving a baseline distance of about two astronomical units between observations; the parallax itself is considered to be half of this maximum, about equivalent to the observational shift that would occur due to the different positions of Earth and the Sun, a baseline of one astronomical unit. Stellar parallax is so difficult to detect that its existence was the subject of much debate in astronomy for hundreds of years, it was first observed in 1806 by Giuseppe Calandrelli who reported parallax in α-Lyrae in his work "Osservazione e riflessione sulla parallasse annua dall’alfa della Lira". In 1838 Friedrich Bessel made the first successful parallax measurement, for the star 61 Cygni, using a Fraunhofer heliometer at Königsberg Observatory.
Once a star's parallax is known, its distance from Earth can be computed trigonometrically. But the more distant an object is, the smaller its parallax. With 21st-century techniques in astrometry, the limits of accurate measurement make distances farther away than about 100 parsecs too approximate to be useful when obtained by this technique; this limits the applicability of parallax as a measurement of distance to objects that are close on a galactic scale. Other techniques, such as spectral red-shift, are required to measure the distance of more remote objects. Stellar parallax measures are given in the tiny units of arcseconds, or in thousandths of arcseconds; the distance unit parsec is defined as the length of the leg of a right triangle adjacent to the angle of one arcsecond at one vertex, where the other leg is 1 AU long. Because stellar parallaxes and distances all involve such skinny right triangles, a convenient trigonometric approximation can be used to convert parallaxes to distance.
The approximate distance is the reciprocal of the parallax: d ≃ 1 / p. For example, Proxima Centauri, whose parallax is 0.7687, is 1 / 0.7687 parsecs = 1.3009 parsecs distant. Stellar parallax is so small that its apparent absence was used as a scientific argument against heliocentrism during the early modern age, it is clear from Euclid's geometry that the effect would be undetectable if the stars were far enough away, but for various reasons such gigantic distances involved seemed implausible: it was one of Tycho Brahe's principal objections to Copernican heliocentrism that in order for it to be compatible with the lack of observable stellar parallax, there would have to be an enormous and unlikely void between the orbit of Saturn and the eighth sphere. James Bradley first tried to measure stellar parallaxes in 1729; the stellar movement proved too insignificant for his telescope, but he instead discovered the aberration of light and the nutation of Earth's axis, catalogued 3222 stars. Stellar parallax is most measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from Earth and Sun, i.e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of Earth's orbit around the Sun.
The parsec is defined as the distance. Annual parallax is measured by observing the position of a star at different times of the year as Earth moves through its orbit. Measurement of annual parallax was the first reliable way to determine the distances to the closest stars; the first successful measurements of stellar parallax were made by Friedrich Bessel in 1838 for the star 61 Cygni using a heliometer. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer technology of the 1960s allowed more efficient compilation of star catalogues. In the 1980s, charge-coupled devices replaced photographic plates and reduced optical uncertainties to one milliarcsecond. Stellar parallax remains the standard for calibrating other measurement methods. Accurate calculations of distance based on stellar parallax require a measurement of the distance from Earth to the Sun, now known to exquisite accuracy based on radar reflection off the surfaces of planets.
The angles involved in these calculations are small and thus difficult to measure. The nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri, has a parallax of 0.7687 ± 0.0003 arcsec. This angle is that subtended by an object 2 centimeters in diameter located 5.3 kilometers away. In 1989 the satellite Hipparcos was launched for obtaining parallaxes and proper motions of nearby stars, increasing the number of stellar parallaxes measured to milliarcsecond accuracy a thousandfold. So, Hipparcos is only able to measure parallax angles for stars up to about 1,600 light-years away, a little more than one percent of the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy; the Hubble telescope WFC3 now has a precision of 20 to 40 microarcseconds, enabling reliable distance measurements u
The photosphere is a star's outer shell from which light is radiated. The term itself is derived from Ancient Greek roots, φῶς, φωτός/phos, photos meaning "light" and σφαῖρα/sphaira meaning "sphere", in reference to it being a spherical surface, perceived to emit light, it extends into a star's surface until the plasma becomes opaque, equivalent to an optical depth of 2/3, or equivalently, a depth from which 50% of light will escape without being scattered. In other words, a photosphere is the deepest region of a luminous object a star, transparent to photons of certain wavelengths; the surface of a star is defined to have a temperature given by the effective temperature in the Stefan–Boltzmann law. Stars, except neutron stars, have no liquid surface. Therefore, the photosphere is used to describe the Sun's or another star's visual surface; the Sun is composed of the chemical elements hydrogen and helium. All heavier elements, called metals in astronomy, account for less than 2% of the mass, with oxygen, carbon and iron being the most abundant.
The Sun's photosphere has a temperature between 4,500 and 6,000 K and a density somewhere around 1×10−3 to 1×10−6 kg/m3. The Sun's photosphere is around 100 kilometers thick, is composed of convection cells called granules—cells of plasma each 1000 kilometers in diameter with hot rising plasma in the center and cooler plasma falling in the narrow spaces between them, flowing at velocities of 7 kilometer per second; each granule has a lifespan of only about twenty minutes, resulting in a continually shifting "boiling" pattern. Grouping the typical granules are super granules up to 30,000 kilometers in diameter with lifespans of up to 24 hours and flow speeds of about 500 meter per second, carrying magnetic field bundles to the edges of the cells. Other magnetically-related phenomena include sunspots and solar faculae dispersed between the granules; these details are too fine to be seen. The Sun's visible atmosphere has other layers above the photosphere: the 2,000 kilometer-deep chromosphere lies just between the photosphere and the much hotter but more tenuous corona.
Other "surface features" on the photosphere are solar sunspots. Animated explanation of the Photosphere. Animated explanation of the temperature of the Photosphere. Solar Lower Atmosphere and Magnetism