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 term apsis refers to an extreme point in the orbit of an object. It denotes either the respective distance of the bodies; the word comes via Latin from Greek, there denoting a whole orbit, is cognate with apse. Except for the theoretical possibility of one common circular orbit for two bodies of equal mass at diametral positions, there are two apsides for any elliptic orbit, named with the prefixes peri- and ap-/apo-, added in reference to the body being orbited. All periodic orbits are, according to Newton's Laws of motion, ellipses: either the two individual ellipses of both bodies, with the center of mass of this two-body system at the one common focus of the ellipses, or the orbital ellipses, with one body taken as fixed at one focus, the other body orbiting this focus. All these ellipses share a straight line, the line of apsides, that contains their major axes, the foci, the vertices, thus the periapsis and the apoapsis; the major axis of the orbital ellipse is the distance of the apsides, when taken as points on the orbit, or their sum, when taken as distances.
The major axes of the individual ellipses around the barycenter the contributions to the major axis of the orbital ellipses are inverse proportional to the masses of the bodies, i.e. a bigger mass implies a smaller axis/contribution. Only when one mass is sufficiently larger than the other, the individual ellipse of the smaller body around the barycenter comprises the individual ellipse of the larger body as shown in the second figure. For remarkable asymmetry, the barycenter of the two bodies may lie well within the bigger body, e.g. the Earth–Moon barycenter is about 75% of the way from Earth's center to its surface. If the smaller mass is negligible compared to the larger the orbital parameters are independent of the smaller mass. For general orbits, the terms periapsis and apoapsis are used. Pericenter and apocenter are equivalent alternatives, referring explicitly to the respective points on the orbits, whereas periapsis and apoapsis may refer to the smallest and largest distances of the orbiter and its host.
For a body orbiting the Sun, the point of least distance is the perihelion, the point of greatest distance is the aphelion. The terms become apastron when discussing orbits around other stars. For any satellite of Earth, including the Moon, the point of least distance is the perigee and greatest distance the apogee, from Ancient Greek Γῆ, "land" or "earth". For objects in lunar orbit, the point of least distance is sometimes called the pericynthion and the greatest distance the apocynthion. Perilune and apolune are used. In orbital mechanics, the apsides technically refer to the distance measured between the barycenters of the central body and orbiting body. However, in the case of a spacecraft, the terms are used to refer to the orbital altitude of the spacecraft above the surface of the central body; these formulae characterize the pericenter and apocenter of an orbit: Pericenter Maximum speed, v per = μ a, at minimum distance, r per = a. Apocenter Minimum speed, v ap = μ a, at maximum distance, r ap = a.
While, in accordance with Kepler's laws of planetary motion and the conservation of energy, these two quantities are constant for a given orbit: Specific relative angular momentum h = μ a Specific orbital energy ε = − μ 2 a where: a is the semi-major axis: a = r per + r ap 2 μ is the standard gravitational parameter e is the eccentricity, defined as e = r ap − r per r ap + r per = 1 − 2 r ap r per + 1 Note t
Percival Lawrence Lowell was an American businessman, author and astronomer who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars. He founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death. Percival Lowell was born on March 13, 1855, in Boston, the first son of Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lowell. A member of the Brahmin Lowell family, his siblings included the poet Amy Lowell, the educator and legal scholar Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Elizabeth Lowell Putnam, an early activist for prenatal care, they were the great-grandchildren of John Lowell and, on their mother's side, the grandchildren of Abbott Lawrence. Percival graduated from the Noble and Greenough School in 1872 and Harvard University in 1876 with distinction in mathematics. At his college graduation, he gave a speech, considered advanced for its time, on the nebular hypothesis, he was awarded honorary degrees from Amherst College and Clark University.
After graduation he ran a cotton mill for six years. In the 1880s, Lowell traveled extensively in the Far East. In August 1883, he served as a foreign secretary and counselor for a special Korean diplomatic mission to the United States, he lived there for about two months. He spent significant periods of time in Japan, writing books on Japanese religion and behavior, his texts are filled with observations and academic discussions of various aspects of Japanese life, including language, religious practices, travel in Japan, the development of personality. Books by Percival Lowell on the Orient include Noto: An Unexplored Corner of Japan and Occult Japan, or the Way of the Gods, the latter from his third and final trip to the region, his time in Korea inspired Chosön: The Land of the Morning Calm. The most popular of Lowell's books on the Orient, The Soul of the Far East, contains an early synthesis of some of his ideas, that in essence, postulated that human progress is a function of the qualities of individuality and imagination.
The writer Lafcadio Hearn called it a "colossal, godlike book." At his death he left with his assistant Wrexie Leonard an unpublished manuscript of a book entitled Peaks and Plateaux in the Effect on Tree Life. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1892, he moved back to the United States in 1893. Beginning in the winter of 1893–94, using his wealth and influence, Lowell dedicated himself to the study of astronomy, founding the observatory which bears his name. In 1904, Lowell received the Prix Jules Janssen, the highest award of the Société astronomique de France, the French astronomical society. For the last 23 years of his life astronomy, Lowell Observatory, his and others' work at his observatory were the focal points of his life. World War I much saddened Lowell, a dedicated pacifist. This, along with some setbacks in his astronomical work, undermined his health and contributed to his death from a stroke on November 12, 1916, aged 61. Lowell is buried on Mars Hill near his observatory.
Lowell claimed to "stick to the church" though at least one current author describes him as an agnostic. Lowell became determined to study Mars and astronomy as a full-time career after reading Camille Flammarion's La planète Mars, he was interested in the canals of Mars, as drawn by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, director of the Milan Observatory. In 1894 Lowell chose Arizona Territory, as the home of his new observatory. At an altitude of over 2,100 meters, with few cloudy nights, far from city lights, Flagstaff was an excellent site for astronomical observations; this marked the first time an observatory had been deliberately located in a remote, elevated place for optimal seeing. For the next fifteen years he studied Mars extensively, made intricate drawings of the surface markings as he perceived them. Lowell published his views in three books: Mars and Its Canals, Mars As the Abode of Life. With these writings, Lowell more than anyone else popularized the long-held belief that these markings showed that Mars sustained intelligent life forms.
His works include a detailed description of what he termed the'non-natural features' of the planet's surface, including a full account of the'canals,' single and double. He theorized that an advanced but desperate culture had built the canals to tap Mars' polar ice caps, the last source of water on an inexorably drying planet. While this idea excited the public, the astronomical community was skeptical. Many astronomers could not see these markings, few believed that they were as extensive as Lowell claimed; as a result and his observatory were ostracized. Although the consensus was that some actual features did exist which would account for these markings, in 1909 the sixty-inch Mount Wilson Observatory telescope in Southern California allowed closer observation of the structures Lowell had interpreted as canals, revealed irregular geological features the result of natural erosion; the existence of canal-like features was definitively disproved in the 1960s by NASA's Mariner missions. Mariner 4, 6, 7, the Mariner 9 orbiter, did not capture images of canals but instead showed a cratered Martian surface.
Today, the surface markings taken to be canals are regarded as an optical illusion. Psychologist Matthew J. Sharps has argued that perception of the canals by Lowell and others could have been the result of a combina
The asteroid belt is the circumstellar disc in the Solar System located between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called minor planets; the asteroid belt is termed the main asteroid belt or main belt to distinguish it from other asteroid populations in the Solar System such as near-Earth asteroids and trojan asteroids. About half the mass of the belt is contained in the four largest asteroids: Ceres, Vesta and Hygiea; the total mass of the asteroid belt is 4% that of the Moon, or 22% that of Pluto, twice that of Pluto's moon Charon. Ceres, the asteroid belt's only dwarf planet, is about 950 km in diameter, whereas 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, 10 Hygiea have mean diameters of less than 600 km; the remaining bodies range down to the size of a dust particle. The asteroid material is so thinly distributed that numerous unmanned spacecraft have traversed it without incident. Nonetheless, collisions between large asteroids do occur, these can produce an asteroid family whose members have similar orbital characteristics and compositions.
Individual asteroids within the asteroid belt are categorized by their spectra, with most falling into three basic groups: carbonaceous and metal-rich. The asteroid belt formed from the primordial solar nebula as a group of planetesimals. Planetesimals are the smaller precursors of the protoplanets. Between Mars and Jupiter, gravitational perturbations from Jupiter imbued the protoplanets with too much orbital energy for them to accrete into a planet. Collisions became too violent, instead of fusing together, the planetesimals and most of the protoplanets shattered; as a result, 99.9% of the asteroid belt's original mass was lost in the first 100 million years of the Solar System's history. Some fragments found their way into the inner Solar System, leading to meteorite impacts with the inner planets. Asteroid orbits continue to be appreciably perturbed whenever their period of revolution about the Sun forms an orbital resonance with Jupiter. At these orbital distances, a Kirkwood gap occurs. Classes of small Solar System bodies in other regions are the near-Earth objects, the centaurs, the Kuiper belt objects, the scattered disc objects, the sednoids, the Oort cloud objects.
On 22 January 2014, ESA scientists reported the detection, for the first definitive time, of water vapor on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The detection was made by using the far-infrared abilities of the Herschel Space Observatory; the finding was unexpected because comets, not asteroids, are considered to "sprout jets and plumes". According to one of the scientists, "The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids." In 1596, Johannes Kepler predicted “Between Mars and Jupiter, I place a planet” in his Mysterium Cosmographicum. While analyzing Tycho Brahe's data, Kepler thought that there was too large a gap between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. In an anonymous footnote to his 1766 translation of Charles Bonnet's Contemplation de la Nature, the astronomer Johann Daniel Titius of Wittenberg noted an apparent pattern in the layout of the planets. If one began a numerical sequence at 0 included 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, etc. doubling each time, added four to each number and divided by 10, this produced a remarkably close approximation to the radii of the orbits of the known planets as measured in astronomical units provided one allowed for a "missing planet" between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
In his footnote, Titius declared "But should the Lord Architect have left that space empty? Not at all."When William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, the planet's orbit matched the law perfectly, leading astronomers to conclude that there had to be a planet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. On January 1, 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi, chair of astronomy at the University of Palermo, found a tiny moving object in an orbit with the radius predicted by this pattern, he dubbed it "Ceres", after the Roman goddess of the patron of Sicily. Piazzi believed it to be a comet, but its lack of a coma suggested it was a planet. Thus, the aforementioned pattern, now known as the Titius–Bode law, predicted the semi-major axes of all eight planets of the time. Fifteen months Heinrich Olbers discovered a second object in the same region, Pallas. Unlike the other known planets and Pallas remained points of light under the highest telescope magnifications instead of resolving into discs. Apart from their rapid movement, they appeared indistinguishable from stars.
Accordingly, in 1802, William Herschel suggested they be placed into a separate category, named "asteroids", after the Greek asteroeides, meaning "star-like". Upon completing a series of observations of Ceres and Pallas, he concluded, Neither the appellation of planets nor that of comets, can with any propriety of language be given to these two stars... They resemble small stars so much. From this, their asteroidal appearance, if I take my name, call them Asteroids. By 1807, further investigation revealed two new objects in the region: Vesta; the burning of Lilienthal in the Napoleonic wars, where the main body of work had been done, brought this first period of discovery to a close. Despite Herschel's coinage, for several decades it remained common practice to refer to these objects as planets and to prefix t
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. NASA was established in 1958; the new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science. Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, the Space Shuttle. NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System and Commercial Crew vehicles; the agency is responsible for the Launch Services Program which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System. From 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics had been experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.
In the early 1950s, there was challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year. An effort for this was the American Project Vanguard. After the Soviet launch of the world's first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, the attention of the United States turned toward its own fledgling space efforts; the US Congress, alarmed by the perceived threat to national security and technological leadership, urged immediate and swift action. On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a "Special Committee on Space Technology", headed by Guyford Stever. On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published "A National Research Program for Space Technology" stating: It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space... It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency...
NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology. While this new federal agency would conduct all non-military space activity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in February 1958 to develop space technology for military application. On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA; when it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA absorbed the 43-year-old NACA intact. A NASA seal was approved by President Eisenhower in 1959. Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were incorporated into NASA. A significant contributor to NASA's entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was the technology from the German rocket program led by Wernher von Braun, now working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which in turn incorporated the technology of American scientist Robert Goddard's earlier works. Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force and many of ARPA's early space programs were transferred to NASA.
In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. The agency's leader, NASA's administrator, is nominated by the President of the United States subject to approval of the US Senate, reports to him or her and serves as senior space science advisor. Though space exploration is ostensibly non-partisan, the appointee is associated with the President's political party, a new administrator is chosen when the Presidency changes parties; the only exceptions to this have been: Democrat Thomas O. Paine, acting administrator under Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, stayed on while Republican Richard Nixon tried but failed to get one of his own choices to accept the job. Paine was confirmed by the Senate in March 1969 and served through September 1970. Republican James C. Fletcher, appointed by Nixon and confirmed in April 1971, stayed through May 1977 into the term of Democrat Jimmy Carter. Daniel Goldin was appointed by Republican George H. W. Bush and stayed through the entire administration of Democrat Bill Clinton.
Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr. associate administrator under Democrat Barack Obama, was kept on as acting administrator by Republican Donald Trump until Trump's own choice Jim Bridenstine, was confirmed in April 2018. Though the agency is independent, the survival or discontinuation of projects can depend directly on the will of the President; the first administrator was Dr. T. Keith Glennan appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his term he brought together the disparate projects in American space development research; the second administrator, James E. Webb, appointed by President John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat who first publicly served under President Harry S. Truman. In order to implement the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy's Moon la
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
In astronomy, magnitude is a unitless measure of the brightness of an object in a defined passband in the visible or infrared spectrum, but sometimes across all wavelengths. An imprecise but systematic determination of the magnitude of objects was introduced in ancient times by Hipparchus; the scale is logarithmic and defined such that each step of one magnitude changes the brightness by a factor of the fifth root of 100, or 2.512. For example, a magnitude 1 star is 100 times brighter than a magnitude 6 star; the brighter an object appears, the lower the value of its magnitude, with the brightest objects reaching negative values. Astronomers use two different definitions of magnitude: absolute magnitude; the apparent magnitude is the brightness of an object. Apparent magnitude depends on an object's intrinsic luminosity, its distance, the extinction reducing its brightness; the absolute magnitude describes the intrinsic luminosity emitted by an object and is defined to be equal to the apparent magnitude that the object would have if it were placed at a certain distance from Earth, 10 parsecs for stars.
A more complex definition of absolute magnitude is used for planets and small Solar System bodies, based on its brightness at one astronomical unit from the observer and the Sun. The Sun has an apparent magnitude of −27 and Sirius, the brightest visible star in the night sky, −1.46. Apparent magnitudes can be assigned to artificial objects in Earth orbit with the International Space Station sometimes reaching a magnitude of −6; the magnitude system dates back 2000 years to the Greek astronomer Hipparchus who classified stars by their apparent brightness, which they saw as size. To the unaided eye, a more prominent star such as Sirius or Arcturus appears larger than a less prominent star such as Mizar, which in turn appears larger than a faint star such as Alcor. In 1736, the mathematician John Keill described the ancient naked-eye magnitude system in this way: The fixed Stars appear to be of different Bignesses, not because they are so, but because they are not all distant from us; those that are nearest will excel in Bigness.
Hence arise the Distribution of Stars, according to their Order and Dignity, into Classes. For all the other Stars, which are only seen by the Help of a Telescope, which are called Telescopical, are not reckoned among these six Orders. Altho' the Distinction of Stars into six Degrees of Magnitude is received by Astronomers, and among those Stars which are reckoned of the brightest Class, there appears a Variety of Magnitude. For Example: The little Dog was by Tycho placed among the Stars of the second Magnitude, which Ptolemy reckoned among the Stars of the first Class: And therefore it is not either of the first or second Order, but ought to be ranked in a Place between both. Note that the brighter the star, the smaller the magnitude: Bright "first magnitude" stars are "1st-class" stars, while stars visible to the naked eye are "sixth magnitude" or "6th-class"; the system was a simple delineation of stellar brightness into six distinct groups but made no allowance for the variations in brightness within a group.
Tycho Brahe attempted to directly measure the "bigness" of the stars in terms of angular size, which in theory meant that a star's magnitude could be determined by more than just the subjective judgment described in the above quote. He concluded that first magnitude stars measured 2 arc minutes in apparent diameter, with second through sixth magnitude stars measuring 1 1⁄2′, 1 1⁄12′, 3⁄4′, 1⁄2′, 1⁄3′, respectively; the development of the telescope showed that these large sizes were illusory—stars appeared much smaller through the telescope. However, early telescopes produced a spurious disk-like image of a star, larger for brighter stars and smaller for fainter ones. Astronomers from Galileo to Jaques Cassini mistook these spurious disks for the physical bodies of stars, thus into the eighteenth century continued to think of magnitude in terms of the physical size of a star. Johannes Hevelius produced a precise table of star sizes measured telescopically, but now the measured diameters ranged from just over six seconds of arc for first magnitude down to just under 2 seconds for sixth magnitude.
By the time of William Herschel astronomers recognized that the telescopic disks of stars were spurious and a function of the telescope as well as the brightness of the stars, but still spoke in terms of a star's size more than its brightness. Well into the nineteenth century the magnitude system