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
A near-Earth object is any small Solar System body whose orbit brings it to proximity with Earth. By convention, a Solar System body is a NEO if its closest approach to the Sun is less than 1.3 astronomical units. If a NEO's orbit crosses the Earth's and the object is larger than 140 meters across, it is considered a hazardous object. Most known PHOs and NEOs are asteroids. There are over 19,000 known near-Earth asteroids, over a hundred short-period near-Earth comets, a number of solar-orbiting spacecraft and meteoroids large enough to be tracked in space before striking the Earth, it is now accepted that collisions in the past have had a significant role in shaping the geological and biological history of the Earth. NEOs have become of increased interest since the 1980s because of greater awareness of the potential danger some of the asteroids or comets pose; when impacting the Earth, asteroids as small as 20 m cause sufficiently strong shock waves and heat to damage the local environment and populations.
Larger asteroids penetrate the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth, producing craters if they hit ground and tsunamis if water bodies are hit. It is in principle possible to deflect asteroids, methods of mitigation are being researched. Based on the orbit calculations of identified NEOs, their risk of future impact is assessed on two scales, the Torino scale and the more complex Palermo scale, both of which rate a risk of any significance with values above 0; some NEOs have had temporarily positive Torino or Palermo scale ratings after their discovery, but as of March 2018, more precise calculations based on subsequent observations led to a reduction of the rating to or below 0 in all cases. Since 1998, the United States, the European Union, other nations are scanning for NEOs in an effort called Spaceguard; the initial US Congress mandate to NASA of cataloging at least 90% of NEOs that are at least 1 kilometre in diameter, which would cause a global catastrophe in case of an impact with Earth, had been met by 2011.
In years, the survey effort has been expanded to objects as small as about 140 m across, which still have the potential for large-scale, though not global, damage. NEOs have low surface gravity, many have Earth-like orbits making them easy targets for spacecraft; as of January 2019, five near-Earth comets and five near-Earth asteroids have been visited by spacecraft. Two near-Earth asteroids are being orbited by spacecraft that will return asteroid samples back to Earth. Plans for commercial asteroid mining have been drafted by private companies; the major technical astronomical definition for Near-Earth objects are small Solar System bodies with orbits around the Sun that by definition lie between 0.983 and 1.3 astronomical units away from the Sun. Thus, NEOs are not currently near the Earth, but they can approach the Earth closely. However, the term is used more flexibly sometimes, for example for objects in orbit around the Earth or for quasi-satellites, which have a more complex orbital relationship with the Earth.
When a NEO is detected, like all other small Solar System bodies, it is submitted to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center for cataloging. MPC maintains separate lists of potential NEOs; the orbits of some NEOs intersect that of the Earth, so they pose a collision danger. These are considered hazardous objects. For the asteroids among PHOs, the hazardous asteroids, MPC maintains a separate list. NEOs are catalogued by two separate units of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: the Center for Near Earth Object Studies and the Solar System Dynamics Group. PHAs are defined based on parameters relating to their potential to approach the Earth dangerously closely. Objects with an Earth minimum orbit intersection distance of 0.05 AU or less and an absolute magnitude of 22.0 or brighter are considered PHAs. Objects that cannot approach closer to the Earth than 0.05 AU, or are smaller than about 140 m in diameter, are not considered PHAs.
NASA's catalog of near-Earth objects includes the approach distances of asteroids and comets. The first near-Earth objects to be observed by humans were comets, their extraterrestrial nature was recognised and confirmed only after Tycho Brahe tried to measure the distance of a comet through its parallax in 1577. The 1758–1759 return of Halley's Comet was the first comet appearance predicted in advance; the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered was 433 Eros in 1898. The asteroid was subject to several observation campaigns, because measurements of its orbit enabled a precise determination of the distance of the Earth from the Sun. In has been said. In 1937, asteroid 69230 Hermes was discovered when it passed the Earth at twice the distance of the Moon. Hermes was considered a threat. Hermes was re-discovered in 2003, is now known to be no threat for at least the next century. On June 14, 1968, the 1.4 km diameter asteroid 1566 Icarus passed Earth at a distance of 0.042482 AU (6,355,2
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
Orders of magnitude (length)
The following are examples of orders of magnitude for different lengths. To help compare different orders of magnitude, the following list describes various lengths between 1.6 × 10 − 35 metres and 10 10 10 122 metres. To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths shorter than 10−23 m. 1.6 × 10−11 yoctometres – the Planck length. 1 ym – 1 yoctometre, the smallest named subdivision of the metre in the SI base unit of length, one septillionth of a metre 1 ym – length of a neutrino. 2 ym – the effective cross-section radius of 1 MeV neutrinos as measured by Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−23 metres and 10−22 metres. To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−22 m and 10−21 m. 100 ym – length of a top quark, one of the smallest known quarks To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−21 m and 10−20 m. 2 zm – length of a preon, hypothetical particles proposed as subcomponents of quarks and leptons.
2 zm – radius of effective cross section for a 20 GeV neutrino scattering off a nucleon 7 zm – radius of effective cross section for a 250 GeV neutrino scattering off a nucleon To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−20 m and 10−19 m. 15 zm – length of a high energy neutrino 30 zm – length of a bottom quark To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−19 m and 10−18 m. 177 zm – de Broglie wavelength of protons at the Large Hadron Collider To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−18 m and 10−17 m. 1 am – sensitivity of the LIGO detector for gravitational waves 1 am – upper limit for the size of quarks and electrons 1 am – upper bound of the typical size range for "fundamental strings" 1 am – length of an electron 1 am – length of an up quark 1 am – length of a down quark To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−17 m and 10−16 m. 10 am – range of the weak force To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−16 m and 10−15 m. 100 am – all lengths shorter than this distance are not confirmed in terms of size 850 am – approximate proton radius The femtometre is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to 10−15 metres.
In particle physics, this unit is more called a fermi with abbreviation "fm". To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−15 metres and 10−14 metres. 1 fm – length of a neutron 1.5 fm – diameter of the scattering cross section of an 11 MeV proton with a target proton 1.75 fm – the effective charge diameter of a proton 2.81794 fm – classical electron radius 7 fm – the radius of the effective scattering cross section for a gold nucleus scattering a 6 MeV alpha particle over 140 degrees To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−14 m and 10−13 m. 1.75 to 15 fm – Diameter range of the atomic nucleus To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−13 m and 10−12 m. 570 fm – typical distance from the atomic nucleus of the two innermost electrons in the uranium atom, the heaviest naturally-occurring atom To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−12 and 10−11 m. 1 pm – distance between atomic nuclei in a white dwarf 2.4 pm – The Compton wavelength of the electron 5 pm – shorter X-ray wavelengths To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−11 and 10−10 m. 25 pm – approximate radius of a helium atom, the smallest neutral atom 50 pm – radius of a hydrogen atom 50 pm – bohr radius: approximate radius of a hydrogen atom ~50 pm – best resolution of a high-resolution transmission electron microscope 60 pm – radius of a carbon atom 93 pm – length of a diatomic carbon molecule To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−10 and 10−9 m. 100 pm – 1 ångström 100 pm – covalent radius of sulfur atom 120 pm – van der Waals radius of a neutral hydrogen atom 120 pm – radius of a gold atom 126 pm – covalent radius of ruthenium atom 135 pm – covalent radius of technetium atom 150 pm – Length of a typical covalent bond 153 pm – covalent radius of silver atom 155 pm – covalent radius of zirconium atom 175 pm – covalent radius of thulium atom 200 pm – highest resolution of a typical electron microscope 225 pm – covalent radius of caesium atom 280 pm – Average size of the water molecule 298 pm – radius of a caesium atom, calculated to be the largest atomic radius 340 pm – thickness of single layer graphene 356.68 pm – width of diamond unit cell 403 pm – width of lithium fluoride unit cell 500 pm – Width of protein α helix 543 pm – silicon lattice spacing 560 pm – width of sodium chloride unit cell 700 pm – width of glucose molecule 780 pm – mean width of quartz unit cell 820 pm – mean width of ice unit cell 900 pm – mean width of coesite unit cell To help compare different orders
The scattered disc is a distant circumstellar disc in the Solar System, sparsely populated by icy small solar system bodies, which are a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects. The scattered-disc objects have orbital eccentricities ranging as high as 0.8, inclinations as high as 40°, perihelia greater than 30 astronomical units. These extreme orbits are thought to be the result of gravitational "scattering" by the gas giants, the objects continue to be subject to perturbation by the planet Neptune. Although the closest scattered-disc objects approach the Sun at about 30–35 AU, their orbits can extend well beyond 100 AU; this makes scattered objects among most distant objects in the Solar System. The innermost portion of the scattered disc overlaps with a torus-shaped region of orbiting objects traditionally called the Kuiper belt, but its outer limits reach much farther away from the Sun and farther above and below the ecliptic than the Kuiper belt proper; because of its unstable nature, astronomers now consider the scattered disc to be the place of origin for most periodic comets in the Solar System, with the centaurs, a population of icy bodies between Jupiter and Neptune, being the intermediate stage in an object's migration from the disc to the inner Solar System.
Perturbations from the giant planets send such objects towards the Sun, transforming them into periodic comets. Many objects of the proposed Oort cloud are thought to have originated in the scattered disc. Detached objects are not distinct from scattered disc objects, some such as Sedna have sometimes been considered to be included in this group. Traditionally, devices like a blink comparator were used in astronomy to detect objects in the Solar System, because these objects would move between two exposures—this involved time-consuming steps like exposing and developing photographic plates or films, people using a blink comparator to manually detect prospective objects. During the 1980s, the use of CCD-based cameras in telescopes made it possible to directly produce electronic images that could be digitized and transferred to digital images; because the CCD captured more light than film and the blinking could now be done at an adjustable computer screen, the surveys allowed for higher throughput.
A flood of new discoveries was the result: over a thousand trans-Neptunian objects were detected between 1992 and 2006. The first scattered-disc object to be recognised as such was 1996 TL66 identified in 1996 by astronomers based at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Three more were identified by the same survey in 1999: 1999 CV118, 1999 CY118, 1999 CF119; the first object presently classified as an SDO to be discovered was 1995 TL8, found in 1995 by Spacewatch. As of 2011, over 200 SDOs have been identified, including Gǃkúnǁʼhòmdímà, 2002 TC302, Sedna and 2004 VN112. Although the numbers of objects in the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc are hypothesized to be equal, observational bias due to their greater distance means that far fewer SDOs have been observed to date. Known trans-Neptunian objects are divided into two subpopulations: the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc. A third reservoir of trans-Neptunian objects, the Oort cloud, has been hypothesized, although no confirmed direct observations of the Oort cloud have been made.
Some researchers further suggest a transitional space between the scattered disc and the inner Oort cloud, populated with "detached objects". The Kuiper belt is a thick torus of space, extending from about 30 to 50 AU comprising two main populations of Kuiper belt objects: the classical Kuiper-belt objects, which lie in orbits untouched by Neptune, the resonant Kuiper-belt objects; these ratios, called orbital resonances, allow KBOs to persist in regions which Neptune's gravitational influence would otherwise have cleared out over the age of the Solar System, since the objects are never close enough to Neptune to be scattered by its gravity. Those in 2:3 resonances are known as "plutinos", because Pluto is the largest member of their group, whereas those in 1:2 resonances are known as "twotinos". In contrast to the Kuiper belt, the scattered-disc population can be disturbed by Neptune. Scattered-disc objects come within gravitational range of Neptune at their closest approaches but their farthest distances reach many times that.
Ongoing research suggests that the centaurs, a class of icy planetoids that orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, may be SDOs thrown into the inner reaches of the Solar System by Neptune, making them "cis-Neptunian" rather than trans-Neptunian scattered objects. Some objects, like 1999 TD10, blur the distinction and the Minor Planet Center, which catalogues all trans-Neptunian objects, now lists centaurs and SDOs together; the MPC, makes a clear distinction between the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc, separating those objects in stable orbits from those in scattered orbits. However, the difference between the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc is not clear-cut, many astronomers see the scattered disc not as a separate population but as an outward region of the Kuiper belt. Another term used is "scattered Kuiper-belt object" for bodies of the scattered d
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
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