Day

A day is the period of time during which the Earth completes one rotation around its axis. A solar day is the length of time which elapses between the Sun reaching its highest point in the sky two consecutive times. In 1960, the second was redefined in terms of the orbital motion of the Earth in year 1900, was designated the SI base unit of time; the unit of measurement "day", was symbolized d. In 1967, the second and so the day were redefined by atomic electron transition. A civil day is 86,400 seconds, plus or minus a possible leap second in Coordinated Universal Time, plus or minus an hour in those locations that change from or to daylight saving time. Day can be defined as each of the twenty-four-hour periods, reckoned from one midnight to the next, into which a week, month, or year is divided, corresponding to a rotation of the earth on its axis; however its use depends on its context, for example when people say'day and night','day' will have a different meaning. It will mean the interval of light between two successive nights.

However, in order to be clear when using'day' in that sense, "daytime" should be used to distinguish it from "day" referring to a 24-hour period. The word day may refer to a day of the week or to a calendar date, as in answer to the question, "On which day?" The life patterns of humans and many other species are related to Earth's solar day and the day-night cycle. Several definitions of this universal human concept are used according to context and convenience. Besides the day of 24 hours, the word day is used for several different spans of time based on the rotation of the Earth around its axis. An important one is the solar day, defined as the time it takes for the Sun to return to its culmination point; because celestial orbits are not circular, thus objects travel at different speeds at various positions in their orbit, a solar day is not the same length of time throughout the orbital year. Because the Earth orbits the Sun elliptically as the Earth spins on an inclined axis, this period can be up to 7.9 seconds more than 24 hours.

In recent decades, the average length of a solar day on Earth has been about 86 400.002 seconds and there are about 365.2422 solar days in one mean tropical year. Ancient custom has a new day start at either the setting of the Sun on the local horizon; the exact moment of, the interval between, two sunrises or sunsets depends on the geographical position, the time of year. A more constant day can be defined by the Sun passing through the local meridian, which happens at local noon or midnight; the exact moment is dependent on the geographical longitude, to a lesser extent on the time of the year. The length of such a day is nearly constant; this is the time as indicated by modern sundials. A further improvement defines a fictitious mean Sun that moves with constant speed along the celestial equator. A day, understood as the span of time it takes for the Earth to make one entire rotation with respect to the celestial background or a distant star, is called a stellar day; this period of rotation is about 4 minutes less than 24 hours and there are about 366.2422 stellar days in one mean tropical year.

Other planets and moons have solar days of different lengths from Earth's. A day, in the sense of daytime, distinguished from night time, is defined as the period during which sunlight directly reaches the ground, assuming that there are no local obstacles; the length of daytime averages more than half of the 24-hour day. Two effects make daytime on average longer than nights; the Sun has an apparent size of about 32 minutes of arc. Additionally, the atmosphere refracts sunlight in such a way that some of it reaches the ground when the Sun is below the horizon by about 34 minutes of arc. So the first light reaches the ground when the centre of the Sun is still below the horizon by about 50 minutes of arc. Thus, daytime is on average around 7 minutes longer than 12 hours; the term comes from the Old English dæg, with its cognates such as dagur in Icelandic, Tag in German, dag in Norwegian, Danish and Dutch. All of them from the Indo-European root dyau which explains the similarity with Latin dies though the word is known to come from the Germanic branch.

As of October 17, 2015, day is the 205th most common word in US English, the 210th most common in UK English. A day, symbol d, defined as 86 400 seconds, is not an SI unit, but is accepted for use with SI; the Second is the base unit of time in SI units. In 1967–68, during the 13th CGPM, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures redefined a second as … the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom; this makes the SI-based day last 794 243 384 928 000 of those periods. Due to tidal effects, the

Apsis

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

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center in La Cañada Flintridge, United States, though it is referred to as residing in Pasadena, because it has a Pasadena ZIP Code. Founded in the 1930s, the JPL is owned by NASA and managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology for NASA; the laboratory's primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network. Among the laboratory's major active projects are the Mars Science Laboratory mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, the SMAP satellite for earth surface soil moisture monitoring, the Spitzer Space Telescope, it is responsible for managing the JPL Small-Body Database, provides physical data and lists of publications for all known small Solar System bodies. The JPL's Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.

JPL traces its beginnings to 1936 in the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology when the first set of rocket experiments were carried out in the Arroyo Seco. Caltech graduate students Frank Malina, Qian Xuesen, Weld Arnold, Apollo M. O. Smith, along with Jack Parsons and Edward S. Forman, tested a small, alcohol-fueled motor to gather data for Malina's graduate thesis. Malina's thesis advisor was engineer/aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán, who arranged for U. S. Army financial support for this "GALCIT Rocket Project" in 1939. In 1941, Parsons, Martin Summerfield, pilot Homer Bushey demonstrated the first jet-assisted takeoff rockets to the Army. In 1943, von Kármán, Malina and Forman established the Aerojet Corporation to manufacture JATO rockets; the project took on the name Jet Propulsion Laboratory in November 1943, formally becoming an Army facility operated under contract by the university. During JPL's Army years, the laboratory developed two deployed weapon systems, the MGM-5 Corporal and MGM-29 Sergeant intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

These missiles were the first US ballistic missiles developed at JPL. It developed a number of other weapons system prototypes, such as the Loki anti-aircraft missile system, the forerunner of the Aerobee sounding rocket. At various times, it carried out rocket testing at the White Sands Proving Ground, Edwards Air Force Base, Goldstone, California. In 1954, JPL teamed up with Wernher von Braun's engineers at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, to propose orbiting a satellite during the International Geophysical Year; the team lost that proposal to Project Vanguard, instead embarked on a classified project to demonstrate ablative re-entry technology using a Jupiter-C rocket. They carried out three successful sub-orbital flights in 1956 and 1957. Using a spare Juno I, the two organizations launched the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. JPL was transferred to NASA in December 1958, becoming the agency's primary planetary spacecraft center.

JPL engineers designed and operated Ranger and Surveyor missions to the Moon that prepared the way for Apollo. JPL led the way in interplanetary exploration with the Mariner missions to Venus and Mercury. In 1998, JPL opened the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA; as of 2013, it has found 95% of asteroids that are a kilometer or more in diameter that cross Earth's orbit. JPL was early to employ female mathematicians. In the 1940s and 1950s, using mechanical calculators, women in an all-female computations group performed trajectory calculations. In 1961, JPL hired Dana Ulery as the first female engineer to work alongside male engineers as part of the Ranger and Mariner mission tracking teams. JPL has been recognized four times by the Space Foundation: with the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award, given annually to an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to public awareness of space programs, in 1998; when it was founded, JPL's site was west of a rocky flood-plain – the Arroyo Seco riverbed – above the Devil's Gate dam in the northwestern panhandle of the city of Pasadena.

While the first few buildings were constructed in land bought from the city of Pasadena, subsequent buildings were constructed in neighboring unincorporated land that became part of La Cañada Flintridge. Nowadays, most of the 177 acres of the U. S. federal government-owned NASA property that makes up the JPL campus is located in La Cañada Flintridge. Despite this, JPL still uses a Pasadena address as its official mailing address; the city of La Cañada Flintridge was incorporated in 1976, well after JPL attained international recognition as a Pasadena institution. There has been occasional rivalry between the two cities over the issue of which one should be mentioned in the media as the home of the laboratory. There are 6,000 full-time Caltech employees, a few thousand additional contractors working on any given day. NASA has a resident office at the facility staffed by federal managers who oversee JPL's activities and work for NASA. There are some Caltech graduate students, college student interns and co-op students.

The JPL Education Office serves educators and students by providi

Asteroid belt

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

Orbital eccentricity

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.

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Karl Schwarzschild

Karl Schwarzschild was a German physicist and astronomer. He was the father of astrophysicist Martin Schwarzschild. Schwarzschild provided the first exact solution to the Einstein field equations of general relativity, for the limited case of a single spherical non-rotating mass, which he accomplished in 1915, the same year that Einstein first introduced general relativity; the Schwarzschild solution, which makes use of Schwarzschild coordinates and the Schwarzschild metric, leads to a derivation of the Schwarzschild radius, the size of the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole. Schwarzschild accomplished this while serving in the German army during World War I, he died the following year from the autoimmune disease pemphigus, which he developed while at the Russian front. Various forms of the disease affect people of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. Asteroid 837 Schwarzschilda is named in his honour, as is the large crater Schwarzschild, on the far side of the Moon. Schwarzschild was born in Frankfurt am Main to Jewish parents.

His father was active in the business community of the city, the family had ancestors in the city dating back to the sixteenth century. Karl attended a Jewish primary school until 11 years of age, he was something of a child prodigy, having two papers on binary orbits published before he was sixteen. He studied at Strasbourg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate in 1896 for a work on Henri Poincaré's theories. From 1897, he worked as assistant at the Kuffner Observatory in Vienna. From 1901 until 1909 he was a professor at the prestigious institute at Göttingen, where he had the opportunity to work with some significant figures, including David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. Schwarzschild became the director of the observatory in Göttingen, he married Else Rosenbach, the daughter of a professor of surgery at Göttingen, in 1909, that year moved to Potsdam, where he took up the post of director of the Astrophysical Observatory. This was the most prestigious post available for an astronomer in Germany.

He and Else had three children, Agathe and Alfred. From 1912, Schwarzschild was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he joined the German army, despite being over 40 years old, he served on both the eastern fronts, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the artillery. While serving on the front in Russia in 1915, he began to suffer from a rare and painful autoimmune skin disease called pemphigus, he managed to write three outstanding papers, two on the theory of relativity and one on quantum theory. His papers on relativity produced the first exact solutions to the Einstein field equations, a minor modification of these results gives the well-known solution that now bears his name — the Schwarzschild metric. Schwarzschild's struggle with pemphigus may have led to his death on May 11, 1916. Thousands of dissertations and books have since been devoted to the study of Schwarzschild's solutions to the Einstein field equations. However, although Schwarzschild's best known work lies in the area of general relativity, his research interests were broad, including work in celestial mechanics, observational stellar photometry, quantum mechanics, instrumental astronomy, stellar structure, stellar statistics, Halley's comet, spectroscopy.

Some of his particular achievements include measurements of variable stars, using photography, the improvement of optical systems, through the perturbative investigation of geometrical aberrations. While at Vienna in 1897, Schwarzschild developed a formula, now known as the Schwarzschild law, to calculate the optical density of photographic material, it involved an exponent now known as the Schwarzschild exponent, the p in the formula: i = f. This formula was important for enabling more accurate photographic measurements of the intensities of faint astronomical sources. According to Wolfgang Pauli, Schwarzschild is the first to introduce the correct Lagrangian formalism of the electromagnetic field as S = ∫ d V + ∫ ρ d V where E →, H → are the electric and magnetic field, A → is the vector potential and ϕ is the electric potential, he introduced a field free variational formulation of electrodynamics based only on the world line of particles as S = ∑ i m i ∫ C i d s i + 1 2 ∑

Astronomical unit

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