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 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
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.
A minor-planet moon is an astronomical object that orbits a minor planet as its natural satellite. As of February 2019, there are 352 minor planets suspected to have moons. Discoveries of minor-planet moons are important because the determination of their orbits provides estimates on the mass and density of the primary, allowing insights of their physical properties, not otherwise possible; the first modern era mention of the possibility of an asteroid satellite was in connection with an occultation of the bright star Gamma Ceti by the asteroid 6 Hebe in 1977. The observer, amateur astronomer Paul D. Maley, detected an unmistakable 0.5 second disappearance of this naked eye star from a site near Victoria, Texas. Many hours several observations were reported in Mexico attributed to the occultation by 6 Hebe itself. Although not confirmed, this documents the first formally documented case of a suspected companion of an asteroid. In addition to the terms satellite and moon, the term "binary" is sometimes used for minor planets with moons, "triple" for minor planets with two moons.
If one object is much bigger it can be referred to as the primary and its companion as secondary. The term double asteroid is sometimes used for systems in which the asteroid and its moon are the same size, while binary tends to be used independently from the relative sizes of the components; when binary minor planets are similar in size, the Minor Planet Center refers to them as "binary companions" instead of referring to the smaller body as a satellite. A good example of a true binary is the 90 Antiope system, identified in August 2000. Small satellites are referred to as moonlets. Prior to the era of the Hubble Space Telescope and space probes reaching the outer Solar System, attempts to detect satellites around asteroids were limited to optical observations from Earth. For example, in 1978, stellar occultation observations were claimed as evidence of a satellite for the asteroid 532 Herculina; however more-detailed imaging by the Hubble Telescope did not reveal a satellite, the current consensus is that Herculina does not have a significant satellite.
There were other similar reports of asteroids having companions in the following years. A letter in Sky & Telescope magazine at this time pointed to simultaneous impact craters on Earth, suggesting that these craters were caused by pairs of gravitationally bound objects. In 1993, the first asteroid moon was confirmed when the Galileo probe discovered the small Dactyl orbiting 243 Ida in the asteroid belt; the second was discovered around 45 Eugenia in 1998. In 2001, 617 Patroclus and its same-sized companion Menoetius became the first known binary asteroids in the Jupiter trojans; the first trans-Neptunian binary after Pluto–Charon, 1998 WW31, was optically resolved in 2002. Triple or trinary minor planets, are known since 2005, when the asteroid 87 Sylvia was discovered to have two satellites, making it the first known triple system; this was followed by the discovery of a second moon orbiting 45 Eugenia. In 2005, the dwarf planet Haumea was discovered to have two moons, making it the second trans-Neptunian object after Pluto known to have more than one moon.
Additionally, 216 Kleopatra and 93 Minerva were discovered to be trinary asteroids in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Since the first few triple minor planets were discovered, more continue to be discovered at a rate of about one a year. Most discovered were two moons orbiting large near-earth asteroid 3122 Florence, bringing the number of known trinary systems in the Solar System up to 14; the following table lists all satellites of triple systems chronologically by their discovery date, starting with Charon, discovered in 1978. The data about the populations of binary objects are still patchy. In addition to the inevitable observational bias the frequency appears to be different among different categories of objects. Among asteroids, an estimated 2% would have satellites. Among trans-Neptunian objects, an estimated 11% are thought to be binary or multiple objects, the majority of the large TNOs have at least one satellite, including all four IAU-listed dwarf planets. More than 50 binaries are known in each of the main groupings: near-Earth asteroids, belt asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects, not including numerous claims based on light-curve variation.
Two binaries have been found so far among centaurs with semi-major axes smaller than Neptune. Both are double ring systems around 2060 Chiron and 10199 Chariklo, discovered in 1994–2011 and 2013 respectively; the origin of minor-planet moons is not known with certainty, a variety of theories exist. A accepted theory is that minor-planet moons are formed from debris knocked off of the primary by an impact. Other pairings may be formed. Formation by collision is constrained by the angular momentum of the components, i.e. by the masses and their separation. Close binaries fit this model. Distant binaries however, with components of comparable size, are unlikely to have followed this scenario, unless considerable mass has been lost in the event; the distances of the components for the known binaries vary from a few hundreds of kilometres to more than 3000 km for the asteroids. Among TNOs, the known separations vary from 3,000 to 50,000 km. What is "typical" for a binary system tends to depend on its location in the Solar System (presumably because of different modes
Johann Palisa was an Austrian astronomer, born in Troppau, Austrian Silesia, now Czech Republic. He was a prolific discoverer of asteroids, discovering 122 in all, from 136 Austria in 1874 to 1073 Gellivara in 1923; some of his notable discoveries include 153 Hilda, 216 Kleopatra, 243 Ida, 253 Mathilde, 324 Bamberga, the near-Earth asteroid 719 Albert. He was awarded the Valz Prize from the French Academy of Sciences in 1906; the asteroid 914 Palisana, discovered by Max Wolf in 1919, the lunar crater Palisa were named in his honour. Palisa was born on December 1848 in Troppau in Austrian Silesia. From 1866 to 1870, Palisa studied mathematics and astronomy at the University of Vienna. Despite this, by 1870 he was an assistant at the University's observatory, a year gained a position at the observatory in Geneva. A few years in 1872, at the age of 24, Palisa became the director of the Austrian Naval Observatory in Pula. While at Pula, he discovered his first asteroid, 136 Austria, on March 18, 1874.
Along with this, he discovered one comet. During his stay in Pula he used a small six-inch refractor telescope to aid in his research. Palisa became director of the Pula observatory, with the rank of commander, until 1880. In 1880 Palisa moved to the new Vienna Observatory. While at the observatory he discovered 94 comets by visual means. In 1883 he joined a French expedition to Caroline Island to observe the Solar eclipse of May 6, 1883. During the expedition, he joined to observations for the search for the hypothetical planet Vulcan, as well as collecting samples of insects for the Vienna Museum of Natural History. In memory of this expedition, he named the asteroid 235 Carolina after Caroline Island. In 1885, Palisa offered to sell the naming rights of some of the minor planets he discovered, in order to fund his travels to observe the Solar eclipse of August 29, 1886; however he sold just a small number of these naming rights and did not go. Palisa and Max Wolf worked together to create the first star atlas created by photographic plates, the Palisa–Wolf Sternkarten, published on 1899, 1902, 1908.
In 1908, Palisa published the Sternenlexikon, mapping the skies from declinations -1° to +19°.. That same year, he became the vice director of the Vienna Observatory, he kept observation rights. Palisa continued to discover asteroids until 1923, he died on May 2, 1925. Between 1874 and 1923 Palisa discovered 122 asteroids ranging from 136 Austria to 1073 Gellivara and the much numbered Mars-crosser 14309 Defoy, respectively, he made his discoveries at the Austrian Naval Observatory at the Vienna Observatory. He discovered the parabolic comet C/1879 Q1 in August 1879. One of his discoveries was 253 Mathilde, a 50-kilometer sized C-type asteroid in the intermediate asteroid belt, visited by the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft on June 27, 1997; the robotic probe passed within 1200 km of Mathilde at 12:56 UT at 9.93 km/s, returning imaging and other instrument data including over 500 images which covered 60% of Mathilde's surface. Only a small number of minor planets have been visited by spacecraft. Palisa married his second wife, Anna Benda, in 1902.
Asteroid 734 Benda is named after her.. He named minor planets after other members of his family: 320 Katharina after his mother, Katherina, 321 Florentina for his daughter Florentine.. His granddaughter was wife of astronomer Joseph Rheden. Asteroid 710 Gertrud is named after her. In 1876 Palisa was awarded the Lalande Prize. Palisa was awarded the Valz Prize from the French Academy of Sciences in 1906; the Phocaea main-belt asteroid 914 Palisana, discovered by Max Wolf in 1919, the lunar crater Palisa were named in his honour. Minor planets 902 Probitas, 975 Perseverantia, 996 Hilaritas that he discovered were given names after his death for traits qualities associated with him: adherence to the highest principles and ideals and happy or contented mind. Names were given by Joseph Rheden with the support of Anna. Minor planet 1152 Pawona is named after both Johann Palisa and Max Wolf, in recognition of their cooperation; the name was proposed by Swedish astronomer Bror Ansgar Asplind. Pawona is "Wolf" joined with a Latin feminine suffix.
Portraits of Johann Palisa from the Lick Observatory Records Digital Archive, UC Santa Cruz Library's Digital Collections von Hepperger, J.. "Anzeige des Todes von Johann Palisa". Astronomische Nachrichten. 225: 125–127. Bibcode:1925AN....225..125V. Doi:10.1002/asna.19252250706
The kilometre, or kilometer is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres. It is now the measurement unit used for expressing distances between geographical places on land in most of the world. K is used in some English-speaking countries as an alternative for the word kilometre in colloquial writing and speech. A slang term for the kilometre in the US and UK military is klick. There are two common pronunciations for the word; the former follows a pattern in English whereby metric units are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable and the pronunciation of the actual base unit does not change irrespective of the prefix. It is preferred by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Many scientists and other users in countries where the metric system is not used, use the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable; the latter pronunciation follows the stress pattern used for the names of measuring instruments. The problem with this reasoning, however, is that the word meter in those usages refers to a measuring device, not a unit of length.
The contrast is more obvious in countries using the British rather than American spelling of the word metre. When Australia introduced the metric system in 1975, the first pronunciation was declared official by the government's Metric Conversion Board. However, the Australian prime minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, insisted that the second pronunciation was the correct one because of the Greek origins of the two parts of the word. By the 8 May 1790 decree, the Constituent assembly ordered the French Academy of Sciences to develop a new measurement system. In August 1793, the French National Convention decreed the metre as the sole length measurement system in the French Republic; the first name of the kilometre was "Millaire". Although the metre was formally defined in 1799, the myriametre was preferred to the "kilometre" for everyday use; the term "myriamètre" appeared a number of times in the text of Develey's book Physique d'Emile: ou, Principes de la science de la nature, while the term kilometre only appeared in an appendix.
French maps published in 1835 had scales showing myriametres and "lieues de Poste". The Dutch gave it the local name of the mijl, it was only in 1867 that the term "kilometer" became the only official unit of measure in the Netherlands to represent 1000 metres. Two German textbooks dated 1842 and 1848 give a snapshot of the use of the kilometre across Europe - the kilometre was in use in the Netherlands and in Italy and the myriametre was in use in France. In 1935, the International Committee for Weights and Measures abolished the prefix "myria-" and with it the "myriametre", leaving the kilometre as the recognised unit of length for measurements of that magnitude. In the United Kingdom, road signs show distances in miles and location marker posts that are used for reference purposes by road engineers and emergency services show distance references in unspecified units which are kilometre-based; the advent of the mobile phone has been instrumental in the British Department for Transport authorising the use of driver location signs to convey the distance reference information of location marker posts to road users should they need to contact the emergency services.
In the US, the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 prohibits the use of federal-aid highway funds to convert existing signs or purchase new signs with metric units. The Executive Director of the US Federal Highway Administration, Jeffrey Paniati, wrote in a 2008 memo: "Section 205 of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 prohibited us from requiring any State DOT to use the metric system during project development activities. Although the State DOT's had the option of using metric measurements or dual units, all of them abandoned metric measurements and reverted to sole use of inch-pound values." The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices since 2000 is published in both metric and American Customary Units. Some sporting disciplines feature 1000 m races in major events, but in other disciplines though world records are catalogued, the one kilometre event remains a minority event; the world records for various sporting disciplines are: Conversion of units, for comparison with other units of length Cubic metre Metric prefix Mileage Odometer Orders of magnitude Square kilometre Media related to Distance indicators at Wikimedia Commons
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