In astronomy, luminosity is the total amount of energy emitted per unit of time by a star, galaxy, or other astronomical object. As a term for energy emitted per unit time, luminosity is synonymous with power. In SI units luminosity is measured in joules per second or watts. Values for luminosity are given in the terms of the luminosity of the Sun, L⊙. Luminosity can be given in terms of the astronomical magnitude system: the absolute bolometric magnitude of an object is a logarithmic measure of its total energy emission rate, while absolute magnitude is a logarithmic measure of the luminosity within some specific wavelength range or filter band. In contrast, the term brightness in astronomy is used to refer to an object's apparent brightness: that is, how bright an object appears to an observer. Apparent brightness depends on both the luminosity of the object and the distance between the object and observer, on any absorption of light along the path from object to observer. Apparent magnitude is a logarithmic measure of apparent brightness.
The distance determined by luminosity measures can be somewhat ambiguous, is thus sometimes called the luminosity distance. In astronomy, luminosity is the amount of electromagnetic energy; when not qualified, the term "luminosity" means bolometric luminosity, measured either in the SI units, watts, or in terms of solar luminosities. A bolometer is the instrument used to measure radiant energy over a wide band by absorption and measurement of heating. A star radiates neutrinos, which carry off some energy, contributing to the star's total luminosity; the IAU has defined a nominal solar luminosity of 3.828×1026 W to promote publication of consistent and comparable values in units of the solar luminosity. While bolometers do exist, they cannot be used to measure the apparent brightness of a star because they are insufficiently sensitive across the electromagnetic spectrum and because most wavelengths do not reach the surface of the Earth. In practice bolometric magnitudes are measured by taking measurements at certain wavelengths and constructing a model of the total spectrum, most to match those measurements.
In some cases, the process of estimation is extreme, with luminosities being calculated when less than 1% of the energy output is observed, for example with a hot Wolf-Rayet star observed only in the infra-red. Bolometric luminosities can be calculated using a bolometric correction to a luminosity in a particular passband; the term luminosity is used in relation to particular passbands such as a visual luminosity of K-band luminosity. These are not luminosities in the strict sense of an absolute measure of radiated power, but absolute magnitudes defined for a given filter in a photometric system. Several different photometric systems exist; some such as the UBV or Johnson system are defined against photometric standard stars, while others such as the AB system are defined in terms of a spectral flux density. A star's luminosity can be determined from two stellar characteristics: size and effective temperature; the former is represented in terms of solar radii, R⊙, while the latter is represented in kelvins, but in most cases neither can be measured directly.
To determine a star's radius, two other metrics are needed: the star's angular diameter and its distance from Earth. Both can be measured with great accuracy in certain cases, with cool supergiants having large angular diameters, some cool evolved stars having masers in their atmospheres that can be used to measure the parallax using VLBI. However, for most stars the angular diameter or parallax, or both, are far below our ability to measure with any certainty. Since the effective temperature is a number that represents the temperature of a black body that would reproduce the luminosity, it cannot be measured directly, but it can be estimated from the spectrum. An alternative way to measure stellar luminosity is to measure the star's apparent brightness and distance. A third component needed to derive the luminosity is the degree of interstellar extinction, present, a condition that arises because of gas and dust present in the interstellar medium, the Earth's atmosphere, circumstellar matter.
One of astronomy's central challenges in determining a star's luminosity is to derive accurate measurements for each of these components, without which an accurate luminosity figure remains elusive. Extinction can only be measured directly if the actual and observed luminosities are both known, but it can be estimated from the observed colour of a star, using models of the expected level of reddening from the interstellar medium. In the current system of stellar classification, stars are grouped according to temperature, with the massive young and energetic Class O stars boasting temperatures in excess of 30,000 K while the less massive older Class M stars exhibit temperatures less than 3,500 K; because luminosity is proportional to temperature to the fourth power, the large variation in stellar temperatures produces an vaster variation in stellar luminosity. Because the luminosity depends on a high power of the stellar mass, high mass luminous stars have much shorter lifetimes; the most luminous stars are always young stars, no more than a few million years for the most extreme.
In the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, the x-axis represents temperature or spectral type while the y-axis represents luminosity or magnitude. The vast majority of stars are found along the main sequence with blue Class O stars found at the top left of the chart while red Class M stars fall to the bottom right. Certain stars like Deneb and Betelgeuse are
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
A giant planet is any massive planet. They are primarily composed of low-boiling-point materials, rather than rock or other solid matter, but massive solid planets can exist. There are four known giant planets in the Solar System: Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. Many extrasolar giant planets have been identified orbiting other stars. Giant planets are sometimes called jovian planets, after Jupiter, they are sometimes known as gas giants. However, many astronomers now apply the latter term only to Jupiter and Saturn, classifying Uranus and Neptune, which have different compositions, as ice giants. Both names are misleading: all of the giant planets consist of fluids above their critical points, where distinct gas and liquid phases do not exist; the principal components are hydrogen and helium in the case of Jupiter and Saturn, water and methane in the case of Uranus and Neptune. The defining differences between a low-mass brown dwarf and a gas giant are debated. One school of thought is based on formation.
Part of the debate concerns whether "brown dwarfs" must, by definition, have experienced nuclear fusion at some point in their history. The term gas giant was coined in 1952 by the science fiction writer James Blish and was used to refer to all giant planets. Arguably it is something of a misnomer, because throughout most of the volume of these planets the pressure is so high that matter is not in gaseous form. Other than solids in the core and the upper layers of the atmosphere, all matter is above the critical point, where there is no distinction between liquids and gases. Fluid planet would be a more accurate term. Jupiter has metallic hydrogen near its center, but much of its volume is hydrogen and traces of other gases above their critical points; the observable atmospheres of all these planets are quite thin compared to their radii, only extending one percent of the way to the center. Thus the observable portions are gaseous; the rather misleading term has caught on because planetary scientists use rock and ice as shorthands for classes of elements and compounds found as planetary constituents, irrespective of what phase the matter may appear in.
In the outer Solar System and helium are referred to as gases. When deep planetary interiors are considered, it may not be far off to say that, by ice astronomers mean oxygen and carbon, by rock they mean silicon, by gas they mean hydrogen and helium; the many ways in which Uranus and Neptune differ from Jupiter and Saturn have led some to use the term only for the planets similar to the latter two. With this terminology in mind, some astronomers have started referring to Uranus and Neptune as ice giants to indicate the predominance of the ices in their interior composition; the alternative term jovian planet refers to the Roman god Jupiter—the genitive form of, Jovis, hence Jovian—and was intended to indicate that all of these planets were similar to Jupiter. Objects large enough to start deuterium fusion are called brown dwarfs, these occupy the mass range between that of large giant planets and the lowest-mass stars; the 13-Jupiter-mass cutoff is a rule of thumb rather than something of precise physical significance.
Larger objects will burn most of their deuterium and smaller ones will burn only a little, the 13 MJ value is somewhere in between. The amount of deuterium burnt depends not only on the mass but on the composition of the planet on the amount of helium and deuterium present; the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia includes objects up to 25 Jupiter masses, the Exoplanet Data Explorer up to 24 Jupiter masses. A giant planet has a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, they may have a dense molten core of rocky elements, or the core may have dissolved and dispersed throughout the planet if the planet is hot enough. In "traditional" giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn hydrogen and helium constitute most of the mass of the planet, whereas they only make up an outer envelope on Uranus and Neptune, which are instead composed of water and methane and therefore referred to as "ice giants". Extrasolar giant planets that orbit close to their stars are the exoplanets that are easiest to detect; these are called hot Jupiters and hot Neptunes because they have high surface temperatures.
Hot Jupiters were, until the advent of space-borne telescopes, the most common form of exoplanet known, due to the relative ease of detecting them with ground-based instruments. Giant planets are said to lack solid surfaces, but it is more accurate to say that they lack surfaces altogether since the gases that constitute them become thinner and thinner with increasing distance from the planets' centers becoming indistinguishable from the interplanetary medium. Therefore, landing on a giant planet may or may not be possible, depending on the size and composition of its core. Gas giants consist of hydrogen and helium; the Solar System's gas giants and Saturn, have heavier elements making up between 3 and 13 percent of their mass. Gas giants are thought to consist of an outer layer of molecular hydrogen, surrounding a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen, with a probable molten core with a rocky composition. Jupiter and Saturn's outermost portion of the hydroge
The parsec is a unit of length used to measure large distances to astronomical objects outside the Solar System. A parsec is defined as the distance at which one astronomical unit subtends an angle of one arcsecond, which corresponds to 648000/π astronomical units. One parsec is equal to 31 trillion kilometres or 19 trillion miles; the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 1.3 parsecs from the Sun. Most of the stars visible to the unaided eye in the night sky are within 500 parsecs of the Sun; the parsec unit was first suggested in 1913 by the British astronomer Herbert Hall Turner. Named as a portmanteau of the parallax of one arcsecond, it was defined to make calculations of astronomical distances from only their raw observational data quick and easy for astronomers. For this reason, it is the unit preferred in astronomy and astrophysics, though the light-year remains prominent in popular science texts and common usage. Although parsecs are used for the shorter distances within the Milky Way, multiples of parsecs are required for the larger scales in the universe, including kiloparsecs for the more distant objects within and around the Milky Way, megaparsecs for mid-distance galaxies, gigaparsecs for many quasars and the most distant galaxies.
In August 2015, the IAU passed Resolution B2, which, as part of the definition of a standardized absolute and apparent bolometric magnitude scale, mentioned an existing explicit definition of the parsec as 648000/π astronomical units, or 3.08567758149137×1016 metres. This corresponds to the small-angle definition of the parsec found in many contemporary astronomical references; the parsec is defined as being equal to the length of the longer leg of an elongated imaginary right triangle in space. The two dimensions on which this triangle is based are its shorter leg, of length one astronomical unit, the subtended angle of the vertex opposite that leg, measuring one arc second. Applying the rules of trigonometry to these two values, the unit length of the other leg of the triangle can be derived. One of the oldest methods used by astronomers to calculate the distance to a star is to record the difference in angle between two measurements of the position of the star in the sky; the first measurement is taken from the Earth on one side of the Sun, the second is taken half a year when the Earth is on the opposite side of the Sun.
The distance between the two positions of the Earth when the two measurements were taken is twice the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The difference in angle between the two measurements is twice the parallax angle, formed by lines from the Sun and Earth to the star at the distant vertex; the distance to the star could be calculated using trigonometry. The first successful published direct measurements of an object at interstellar distances were undertaken by German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel in 1838, who used this approach to calculate the 3.5-parsec distance of 61 Cygni. The parallax of a star is defined as half of the angular distance that a star appears to move relative to the celestial sphere as Earth orbits the Sun. Equivalently, it is the subtended angle, from that star's perspective, of the semimajor axis of the Earth's orbit; the star, the Sun and the Earth form the corners of an imaginary right triangle in space: the right angle is the corner at the Sun, the corner at the star is the parallax angle.
The length of the opposite side to the parallax angle is the distance from the Earth to the Sun (defined as one astronomical unit, the length of the adjacent side gives the distance from the sun to the star. Therefore, given a measurement of the parallax angle, along with the rules of trigonometry, the distance from the Sun to the star can be found. A parsec is defined as the length of the side adjacent to the vertex occupied by a star whose parallax angle is one arcsecond; the use of the parsec as a unit of distance follows from Bessel's method, because the distance in parsecs can be computed as the reciprocal of the parallax angle in arcseconds. No trigonometric functions are required in this relationship because the small angles involved mean that the approximate solution of the skinny triangle can be applied. Though it may have been used before, the term parsec was first mentioned in an astronomical publication in 1913. Astronomer Royal Frank Watson Dyson expressed his concern for the need of a name for that unit of distance.
He proposed the name astron, but mentioned that Carl Charlier had suggested siriometer and Herbert Hall Turner had proposed parsec. It was Turner's proposal. In the diagram above, S represents the Sun, E the Earth at one point in its orbit, thus the distance ES is one astronomical unit. The angle SDE is one arcsecond so by definition D is a point in space at a distance of one parsec from the Sun. Through trigonometry, the distance SD is calculated as follows: S D = E S tan 1 ″ S D ≈ E S 1 ″ = 1 au 1 60 × 60 × π
HD 219134 b
HD 219134 b is one of at least five exoplanets orbiting HR 8832, a main-sequence star in the constellation of Cassiopeia. As of July 2015, super-Earth HD 219134 b, with a size of about 1.6 R⊕, a density of 6.4 g/cm3, was reported as the closest rocky exoplanet to the Earth, at 21.25 light-years away. The exoplanet was detected by the instrument HARPS-N of the Italian Telescopio Nazionale Galileo via the radial velocity method and subsequently observed by the Spitzer telescope as transiting in front of its star; the exoplanet has a mass of about 4.5 times orbits its host star every three days. In 2017, it was found that the planet hosts an atmosphere. HD 219134 b is a super-Earth, an exoplanet with a radius and mass bigger than Earth, but smaller than that of the ice giants Neptune and Uranus. Using both the radial velocity and transit method, both its mass and radius have been well determined, allowing for accurate modelling of the planet's composition. HD 219134 b has a radius of 1.602 R⊕ and a mass of 4.74 M⊕, giving it a density of about 6.4 g/cm3 and 1.85 times the gravity of Earth.
This is consistent with a Earth-like composition. This is unusual, as most planets of ≥1.6 R⊕ are expected to be rich in volatile materials, such as water and gas. Despite its Earth-like composition, the planet's equilibrium temperature is around 1,015 K, far too hot for liquid water or life. Depending on the amount of cloud cover in the atmosphere of HD 219134 b, the actual temperature may be somewhat lower, but nowhere near the range for liquid water; the planet orbits a star named HR 8832, orbited by a total of five to seven planets. The star has a mass of 0.81 M☉ and a radius of 0.778 R☉. It has a temperature of 4699 K and is about 11.0 billion years old, making it one of the oldest stars. In comparison, the Sun is 4.6 billion years old and has a temperature of 5778 K. The star's apparent magnitude, or how bright it appears from Earth's perspective, is 5, it can be seen with the naked eye. HD 219134 b orbits its host star with about 28% of the Sun's luminosity with an orbital period of 3 days and an orbital radius of about 0.03 times that of Earth's.
In 2017, it was predicted that HD 219134 b and HD 219134 c have atmospheres that are secondary in nature, based on the compositions of the planets and the potential for atmospheric escape. For HD 219134 b, the predicted atmosphere was calculated to reach a height of about 0.18 R⊕, below the predicted height of a primordial hydrogen atmosphere. This would indicate a secondary atmosphere produced by processes like volcanic activity and evaporation of volatile materials. However, the composition of volatile materials on HD 219134 b and c could not be determined, yet it is believed that the former has a thin gaseous envelope, far thinner than those of Uranus and Neptune. List of exoplanet extremes Other rocky planets with confirmed atmospheres: TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c Gliese 1132 b, has an atmosphere rich in water and methane. 55 Cancri e, has an atmosphere with hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide, and/or carbon monoxide. Cassiopeia Constellation at Constellation Guide The Deep Photographic Guide to the Constellations: Cassiopeia
In astronomy, the main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell. Stars on this band are known as main-sequence stars or dwarf stars; these are the most numerous true stars in the universe, include the Earth's Sun. After condensation and ignition of a star, it generates thermal energy in its dense core region through nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium. During this stage of the star's lifetime, it is located on the main sequence at a position determined by its mass, but based upon its chemical composition and age; the cores of main-sequence stars are in hydrostatic equilibrium, where outward thermal pressure from the hot core is balanced by the inward pressure of gravitational collapse from the overlying layers. The strong dependence of the rate of energy generation on temperature and pressure helps to sustain this balance.
Energy generated at the core is radiated away at the photosphere. The energy is carried by either radiation or convection, with the latter occurring in regions with steeper temperature gradients, higher opacity or both; the main sequence is sometimes divided into upper and lower parts, based on the dominant process that a star uses to generate energy. Stars below about 1.5 times the mass of the Sun fuse hydrogen atoms together in a series of stages to form helium, a sequence called the proton–proton chain. Above this mass, in the upper main sequence, the nuclear fusion process uses atoms of carbon and oxygen as intermediaries in the CNO cycle that produces helium from hydrogen atoms. Main-sequence stars with more than two solar masses undergo convection in their core regions, which acts to stir up the newly created helium and maintain the proportion of fuel needed for fusion to occur. Below this mass, stars have cores that are radiative with convective zones near the surface. With decreasing stellar mass, the proportion of the star forming a convective envelope increases.
Main-sequence stars below 0.4 M☉ undergo convection throughout their mass. When core convection does not occur, a helium-rich core develops surrounded by an outer layer of hydrogen. In general, the more massive a star is, the shorter its lifespan on the main sequence. After the hydrogen fuel at the core has been consumed, the star evolves away from the main sequence on the HR diagram, into a supergiant, red giant, or directly to a white dwarf. In the early part of the 20th century, information about the types and distances of stars became more available; the spectra of stars were shown to have distinctive features. Annie Jump Cannon and Edward C. Pickering at Harvard College Observatory developed a method of categorization that became known as the Harvard Classification Scheme, published in the Harvard Annals in 1901. In Potsdam in 1906, the Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung noticed that the reddest stars—classified as K and M in the Harvard scheme—could be divided into two distinct groups; these stars are either much brighter than the Sun, or much fainter.
To distinguish these groups, he called them. The following year he began studying star clusters, he published the first plots of color versus luminosity for these stars. These plots showed a continuous sequence of stars, which he named the Main Sequence. At Princeton University, Henry Norris Russell was following a similar course of research, he was studying the relationship between the spectral classification of stars and their actual brightness as corrected for distance—their absolute magnitude. For this purpose he used a set of stars that had reliable parallaxes and many of, categorized at Harvard; when he plotted the spectral types of these stars against their absolute magnitude, he found that dwarf stars followed a distinct relationship. This allowed the real brightness of a dwarf star to be predicted with reasonable accuracy. Of the red stars observed by Hertzsprung, the dwarf stars followed the spectra-luminosity relationship discovered by Russell. However, the giant stars are much brighter than so do not follow the same relationship.
Russell proposed that the "giant stars must have low density or great surface-brightness, the reverse is true of dwarf stars". The same curve showed that there were few faint white stars. In 1933, Bengt Strömgren introduced the term Hertzsprung–Russell diagram to denote a luminosity-spectral class diagram; this name reflected the parallel development of this technique by both Hertzsprung and Russell earlier in the century. As evolutionary models of stars were developed during the 1930s, it was shown that, for stars of a uniform chemical composition, a relationship exists between a star's mass and its luminosity and radius; that is, for a given mass and composition, there is a unique solution for determining the star's radius and luminosity. This became known as the Vogt–Russell theorem. By this theorem, when a star's chemical composition and its position on the main sequence is known, so too is the star's mass and radius. A refined scheme for stellar classification was published in 1943 by William Wilson Morgan and Philip Childs Keenan.
The MK classification assigned each star a spectral type—based on the Harvard classification—and a luminosity class. The Harvard classification had been developed by assigning a different lett
Right ascension is the angular distance of a particular point measured eastward along the celestial equator from the Sun at the March equinox to the point above the earth in question. When paired with declination, these astronomical coordinates specify the direction of a point on the celestial sphere in the equatorial coordinate system. An old term, right ascension refers to the ascension, or the point on the celestial equator that rises with any celestial object as seen from Earth's equator, where the celestial equator intersects the horizon at a right angle, it contrasts with oblique ascension, the point on the celestial equator that rises with any celestial object as seen from most latitudes on Earth, where the celestial equator intersects the horizon at an oblique angle. Right ascension is the celestial equivalent of terrestrial longitude. Both right ascension and longitude measure an angle from a primary direction on an equator. Right ascension is measured from the Sun at the March equinox i.e. the First Point of Aries, the place on the celestial sphere where the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north at the March equinox and is located in the constellation Pisces.
Right ascension is measured continuously in a full circle from that alignment of Earth and Sun in space, that equinox, the measurement increasing towards the east. As seen from Earth, objects noted to have 12h RA are longest visible at the March equinox. On those dates at midnight, such objects will reach their highest point. How high depends on their declination. Any units of angular measure could have been chosen for right ascension, but it is customarily measured in hours and seconds, with 24h being equivalent to a full circle. Astronomers have chosen this unit to measure right ascension because they measure a star's location by timing its passage through the highest point in the sky as the Earth rotates; the line which passes through the highest point in the sky, called the meridian, is the projection of a longitude line onto the celestial sphere. Since a complete circle contains 24h of right ascension or 360°, 1/24 of a circle is measured as 1h of right ascension, or 15°. A full circle, measured in right-ascension units, contains 24 × 60 × 60 = 86400s, or 24 × 60 = 1440m, or 24h.
Because right ascensions are measured in hours, they can be used to time the positions of objects in the sky. For example, if a star with RA = 1h 30m 00s is at its meridian a star with RA = 20h 00m 00s will be on the/at its meridian 18.5 sidereal hours later. Sidereal hour angle, used in celestial navigation, is similar to right ascension, but increases westward rather than eastward. Measured in degrees, it is the complement of right ascension with respect to 24h, it is important not to confuse sidereal hour angle with the astronomical concept of hour angle, which measures angular distance of an object westward from the local meridian. The Earth's axis rotates westward about the poles of the ecliptic, completing one cycle in about 26,000 years; this movement, known as precession, causes the coordinates of stationary celestial objects to change continuously, if rather slowly. Therefore, equatorial coordinates are inherently relative to the year of their observation, astronomers specify them with reference to a particular year, known as an epoch.
Coordinates from different epochs must be mathematically rotated to match each other, or to match a standard epoch. Right ascension for "fixed stars" near the ecliptic and equator increases by about 3.05 seconds per year on average, or 5.1 minutes per century, but for fixed stars further from the ecliptic the rate of change can be anything from negative infinity to positive infinity. The right ascension of Polaris is increasing quickly; the North Ecliptic Pole in Draco and the South Ecliptic Pole in Dorado are always at right ascension 18h and 6h respectively. The used standard epoch is J2000.0, January 1, 2000 at 12:00 TT. The prefix "J" indicates. Prior to J2000.0, astronomers used the successive Besselian epochs B1875.0, B1900.0, B1950.0. The concept of right ascension has been known at least as far back as Hipparchus who measured stars in equatorial coordinates in the 2nd century BC, but Hipparchus and his successors made their star catalogs in ecliptic coordinates, the use of RA was limited to special cases.
With the invention of the telescope, it became possible for astronomers to observe celestial objects in greater detail, provided that the telescope could be kept pointed at the object for a period of time. The easiest way to do, to use an equatorial mount, which allows the telescope to be aligned with one of its two pivots parallel to the Earth's axis. A motorized clock drive is used with an equatorial mount to cancel out the Earth's rotation; as the equatorial mount became adopted for observation, the equatorial coordinate system, which includes right ascension, was adopted at the same time for simplicity. Equatorial mounts could be pointed at objects with known right ascension and declination by the use of setting circles; the first star catalog to use right ascen