Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that involves precise measurements of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies. The information obtained by astrometric measurements provides information on the kinematics and physical origin of the Solar System and our galaxy, the history of astrometry is linked to the history of star catalogues, which gave astronomers reference points for objects in the sky so they could track their movements. This can be dated back to Hipparchus, who around 190 BC used the catalogue of his predecessors Timocharis, in doing so, he also developed the brightness scale still in use today. Hipparchus compiled a catalogue with at least 850 stars and their positions, hipparchuss successor, Ptolemy, included a catalogue of 1,022 stars in his work the Almagest, giving their location, coordinates, and brightness. Ibn Yunus observed more than 10,000 entries for the Suns position for years using a large astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 metres. In the 15th century, the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg compiled the Zij-i-Sultani, like the earlier catalogs of Hipparchus and Ptolemy, Ulugh Begs catalogue is estimated to have been precise to within approximately 20 minutes of arc. In the 16th century, Tycho Brahe used improved instruments, including large mural instruments, to measure star positions more accurately than previously, Taqi al-Din measured the right ascension of the stars at the Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din using the observational clock he invented. When telescopes became commonplace, setting circles sped measurements James Bradley first tried to measure stellar parallaxes in 1729, the stellar movement proved too insignificant for his telescope, but he instead discovered the aberration of light and the nutation of the Earths axis. His cataloguing of 3222 stars was refined in 1807 by Friedrich Bessel and he made the first measurement of stellar parallax,0.3 arcsec for the binary star 61 Cygni. Being very difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century, astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated technology of the 1960s allowed more efficient compilation of star catalogues. In the 1980s, charge-coupled devices replaced photographic plates and reduced optical uncertainties to one milliarcsecond and this technology made astrometry less expensive, opening the field to an amateur audience. In 1989, the European Space Agencys Hipparcos satellite took astrometry into orbit, operated from 1989 to 1993, Hipparcos measured large and small angles on the sky with much greater precision than any previous optical telescopes. During its 4-year run, the positions, parallaxes, and proper motions of 118,218 stars were determined with a degree of accuracy. A new Tycho catalog drew together a database of 1,058,332 to within 20-30 mas, additional catalogues were compiled for the 23,882 double/multiple stars and 11,597 variable stars also analyzed during the Hipparcos mission. Today, the catalogue most often used is USNO-B1.0, during the past 50 years,7,435 Schmidt camera plates were used to complete several sky surveys that make the data in USNO-B1.0 accurate to within 0.2 arcsec. In observational astronomy, astrometric techniques help identify stellar objects by their unique motions and it is instrumental for keeping time, in that UTC is basically the atomic time synchronized to Earths rotation by means of exact observations. Astrometry is an important step in the distance ladder because it establishes parallax distance estimates for stars in the Milky Way
Illustration of the use of interferometry in the optical wavelength range to determine precise positions of stars. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Concept art for the TAU spacecraft, a 1980s era study which would have used an interstellar precursor probe to expand the baseline for calculating stellar parallax in support of Astrometry
Motion of barycenter of solar system relative to the Sun.