Proper motion is the astronomical measure of the observed changes in the apparent places of stars or other celestial objects in the sky, as seen from the center of mass of the Solar System, compared to the abstract background of the more distant stars. The components for proper motion in the equatorial coordinate system are given in the direction of right ascension and of declination, their combined value is computed as the total proper motion. It has dimensions of angle per time arcseconds per year or milliarcseconds per year. Knowledge of the proper motion and radial velocity allows calculations of true stellar motion or velocity in space in respect to the Sun, by coordinate transformation, the motion in respect to the Milky Way. Proper motion is not "proper", because it includes a component due to the motion of the Solar System itself. Over the course of centuries, stars appear to maintain nearly fixed positions with respect to each other, so that they form the same constellations over historical time.
Ursa Major or Crux, for example, looks nearly the same now. However, precise long-term observations show that the constellations change shape, albeit slowly, that each star has an independent motion; this motion is caused by the movement of the stars relative to the Solar System. The Sun travels in a nearly circular orbit about the center of the Milky Way at a speed of about 220 km/s at a radius of 8 kPc from the center, which can be taken as the rate of rotation of the Milky Way itself at this radius; the proper motion is a two-dimensional vector and is thus defined by two quantities: its position angle and its magnitude. The first quantity indicates the direction of the proper motion on the celestial sphere, the second quantity is the motion's magnitude expressed in arcseconds per year or milliarcsecond per year. Proper motion may alternatively be defined by the angular changes per year in the star's right ascension and declination, using a constant epoch in defining these; the components of proper motion by convention are arrived at.
Suppose an object moves from coordinates to coordinates in a time Δt. The proper motions are given by: μ α = α 2 − α 1 Δ t, μ δ = δ 2 − δ 1 Δ t; the magnitude of the proper motion μ is given by the Pythagorean theorem: μ 2 = μ δ 2 + μ α 2 ⋅ cos 2 δ, μ 2 = μ δ 2 + μ α ∗ 2, where δ is the declination. The factor in cos2δ accounts for the fact that the radius from the axis of the sphere to its surface varies as cosδ, for example, zero at the pole. Thus, the component of velocity parallel to the equator corresponding to a given angular change in α is smaller the further north the object's location; the change μα, which must be multiplied by cosδ to become a component of the proper motion, is sometimes called the "proper motion in right ascension", μδ the "proper motion in declination". If the proper motion in right ascension has been converted by cosδ, the result is designated μα*. For example, the proper motion results in right ascension in the Hipparcos Catalogue have been converted. Hence, the individual proper motions in right ascension and declination are made equivalent for straightforward calculations of various other stellar motions.
The position angle θ is related to these components by: μ sin θ = μ α cos δ = μ α ∗, μ cos θ = μ δ. Motions in equatorial coordinates can be converted to motions in galactic coordinates. For the majority of stars seen in the sky, the observed proper motions are small and unremarkable; such stars are either faint or are distant, have changes of below 10 milliarcseconds per year, do not appear to move appreciably over many millennia. A few do have significant motions, are called high-proper motion stars. Motions can be in seemingly random directions. Two or more stars, double stars or open star clusters, which are moving in similar directions, exhibit so-called shared or common proper motion, suggesting they may be gravitationally attached or share similar motion in space. Barnard's Star has the largest proper motion of all stars, moving at 10.3 seconds of arc per year. L
Astronomical spectroscopy is the study of astronomy using the techniques of spectroscopy to measure the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light and radio, which radiates from stars and other celestial objects. A stellar spectrum can reveal many properties of stars, such as their chemical composition, density, distance and relative motion using Doppler shift measurements. Spectroscopy is used to study the physical properties of many other types of celestial objects such as planets, nebulae and active galactic nuclei. Astronomical spectroscopy is used to measure three major bands of radiation: visible spectrum, X-ray. While all spectroscopy looks at specific areas of the spectrum, different methods are required to acquire the signal depending on the frequency. Ozone and molecular oxygen absorb light with wavelengths under 300 nm, meaning that X-ray and ultraviolet spectroscopy require the use of a satellite telescope or rocket mounted detectors. Radio signals have much longer wavelengths than optical signals, require the use of antennas or radio dishes.
Infrared light is absorbed by atmospheric water and carbon dioxide, so while the equipment is similar to that used in optical spectroscopy, satellites are required to record much of the infrared spectrum. Physicists have been looking at the solar spectrum since Isaac Newton first used a simple prism to observe the refractive properties of light. In the early 1800s Joseph von Fraunhofer used his skills as a glass maker to create pure prisms, which allowed him to observe 574 dark lines in a continuous spectrum. Soon after this, he combined telescope and prism to observe the spectrum of Venus, the Moon and various stars such as Betelgeuse; the resolution of a prism is limited by its size. This issue was resolved in the early 1900s with the development of high-quality reflection gratings by J. S. Plaskett at the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, Canada. Light striking a mirror will reflect at the same angle, however a small portion of the light will be refracted at a different angle. By creating a "blazed" grating which utilizes a large number of parallel mirrors, the small portion of light can be focused and visualized.
These new spectroscopes were more detailed than a prism, required less light, could be focused on a specific region of the spectrum by tilting the grating. The limitation to a blazed grating is the width of the mirrors, which can only be ground a finite amount before focus is lost. In order to overcome this limitation holographic gratings were developed. Volume phase holographic gratings use a thin film of dichromated gelatin on a glass surface, subsequently exposed to a wave pattern created by an interferometer; this wave pattern sets up a reflection pattern similar to the blazed gratings but utilizing Bragg diffraction, a process where the angle of reflection is dependent on the arrangement of the atoms in the gelatin. The holographic gratings can have up to 6000 lines/mm and can be up to twice as efficient in collecting light as blazed gratings; because they are sealed between two sheets of glass, the holographic gratings are versatile lasting decades before needing replacement. Light dispersed by the grating or prism in a spectrograph can be recorded by a detector.
Photographic plates were used to record spectra until electronic detectors were developed, today optical spectrographs most employ charge-coupled devices. The wavelength scale of a spectrum can be calibrated by observing the spectrum of emission lines of known wavelength from a gas-discharge lamp; the flux scale of a spectrum can be calibrated as a function of wavelength by comparison with an observation of a standard star with corrections for atmospheric absorption of light. Radio astronomy was founded with the work of Karl Jansky in the early 1930s, while working for Bell Labs, he built a radio antenna to look at potential sources of interference for transatlantic radio transmissions. One of the sources of noise discovered came not from Earth, but from the center of the Milky Way, in the constellation Sagittarius. In 1942, JS Hey captured the sun's radio frequency using military radar receivers. Radio spectroscopy started with the discovery of the 21-centimeter H I line in 1951. Radio interferometry was pioneered in 1946, when Joseph Lade Pawsey, Ruby Payne-Scott and Lindsay McCready used a single antenna atop a sea cliff to observe 200 MHz solar radiation.
Two incident beams, one directly from the sun and the other reflected from the sea surface, generated the necessary interference. The first multi-receiver interferometer was built in the same year by Martin Vonberg. In 1960, Ryle and Antony Hewish published the technique of aperture synthesis to analyze interferometer data; the aperture synthesis process, which involves autocorrelating and discrete Fourier transforming the incoming signal, recovers both the spatial and frequency variation in flux. The result is a 3D image. For this work and Hewish were jointly awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics. Newton used a prism to split white light into a spectrum of color, Fraunhofer's high-quality prisms allowed scientists to see dark lines of an unknown origin. In the 1850s, Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen described the phenomena behind these dark lines
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
A constellation is a group of stars that forms an imaginary outline or pattern on the celestial sphere representing an animal, mythological person or creature, a god, or an inanimate object. The origins of the earliest constellations go back to prehistory. People used them to relate stories of their beliefs, creation, or mythology. Different cultures and countries adopted their own constellations, some of which lasted into the early 20th century before today's constellations were internationally recognized. Adoption of constellations has changed over time. Many have changed in shape; some became popular. Others were limited to single nations; the 48 traditional Western constellations are Greek. They are given in Aratus' work Phenomena and Ptolemy's Almagest, though their origin predates these works by several centuries. Constellations in the far southern sky were added from the 15th century until the mid-18th century when European explorers began traveling to the Southern Hemisphere. Twelve ancient constellations belong to the zodiac.
The origins of the zodiac remain uncertain. In 1928, the International Astronomical Union formally accepted 88 modern constellations, with contiguous boundaries that together cover the entire celestial sphere. Any given point in a celestial coordinate system lies in one of the modern constellations; some astronomical naming systems include the constellation where a given celestial object is found to convey its approximate location in the sky. The Flamsteed designation of a star, for example, consists of a number and the genitive form of the constellation name. Other star patterns or groups called asterisms are not constellations per se but are used by observers to navigate the night sky. Examples of bright asterisms include the Pleiades and Hyades within the constellation Taurus or Venus' Mirror in the constellation of Orion.. Some asterisms, like the False Cross, are split between two constellations; the word "constellation" comes from the Late Latin term cōnstellātiō, which can be translated as "set of stars".
The Ancient Greek word for constellation is ἄστρον. A more modern astronomical sense of the term "constellation" is as a recognisable pattern of stars whose appearance is associated with mythological characters or creatures, or earthbound animals, or objects, it can specifically denote the recognized 88 named constellations used today. Colloquial usage does not draw a sharp distinction between "constellations" and smaller "asterisms", yet the modern accepted astronomical constellations employ such a distinction. E.g. the Pleiades and the Hyades are both asterisms, each lies within the boundaries of the constellation of Taurus. Another example is the northern asterism known as the Big Dipper or the Plough, composed of the seven brightest stars within the area of the IAU-defined constellation of Ursa Major; the southern False Cross asterism includes portions of the constellations Carina and Vela and the Summer Triangle.. A constellation, viewed from a particular latitude on Earth, that never sets below the horizon is termed circumpolar.
From the North Pole or South Pole, all constellations south or north of the celestial equator are circumpolar. Depending on the definition, equatorial constellations may include those that lie between declinations 45° north and 45° south, or those that pass through the declination range of the ecliptic or zodiac ranging between 23½° north, the celestial equator, 23½° south. Although stars in constellations appear near each other in the sky, they lie at a variety of distances away from the Earth. Since stars have their own independent motions, all constellations will change over time. After tens to hundreds of thousands of years, familiar outlines will become unrecognizable. Astronomers can predict the past or future constellation outlines by measuring individual stars' common proper motions or cpm by accurate astrometry and their radial velocities by astronomical spectroscopy; the earliest evidence for the humankind's identification of constellations comes from Mesopotamian inscribed stones and clay writing tablets that date back to 3000 BC.
It seems that the bulk of the Mesopotamian constellations were created within a short interval from around 1300 to 1000 BC. Mesopotamian constellations appeared in many of the classical Greek constellations; the oldest Babylonian star catalogues of stars and constellations date back to the beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, most notably the Three Stars Each texts and the MUL. APIN, an expanded and revised version based on more accurate observation from around 1000 BC. However, the numerous Sumerian names in these catalogues suggest that they built on older, but otherwise unattested, Sumerian traditions of the Early Bronze Age; the classical Zodiac is a revision of Neo-Babylonian constellations from the 6th century BC. The Greeks adopted the Babylonian constellations in the 4th century BC. Twenty Ptolemaic constellations are from the Ancient Near East. Another ten have the same stars but different names. Biblical scholar, E. W. Bullinger interpreted some of the creatures mentioned in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation as the middle signs of the four quarters of the Zodiac, with the Lion as Leo, the Bull as Taurus, the Man representing Aquarius and the Eagle standing in for Scorpio.
The biblical Book of Job also
Astronomy in China has a long history, beginning from the Shang Dynasty. Chinese star names categorized in the twenty-eight mansions have been found on oracle bones unearthed at Anyang, dating back to the middle Shang Dynasty, the mansion system's nucleus seems to have taken shape by the time of the ruler Wu Ding. Detailed records of astronomical observations began during the Warring States period and flourished from the Han period onward. Chinese astronomy was equatorial, centered as it was on close observation of circumpolar stars, was based on different principles from those prevailing in traditional Western astronomy, where heliacal risings and settings of zodiac constellations formed the basic ecliptic framework. Needham has described the ancient Chinese as the most persistent and accurate observers of celestial phenomena anywhere in the world before the Islamic astronomers; some elements of Indian astronomy reached China with the expansion of Buddhism after the Eastern Han Dynasty, but the most detailed incorporation of Indian astronomical thought occurred during the Tang Dynasty, when numerous Indian astronomers took up residence in the Chinese capital, Chinese scholars, such as the Tantric Buddhist monk and mathematician Yi Xing, mastered its system.
Islamic astronomers collaborated with their Chinese colleagues during the Yuan Dynasty, after a period of relative decline during the Ming Dynasty, astronomy was revitalized under the stimulus of Western cosmology and technology after the Jesuits established their missions. The telescope was introduced in the seventeenth century. In 1669, the Peking observatory was redesigned and refitted under the direction of Ferdinand Verbiest. Today, China continues to be active with many observatories and its own space program. One of the main functions was for the purpose of timekeeping; the Chinese used a lunisolar calendar, because the cycles of the Sun and the Moon are different, intercalation had to be done. The Chinese calendar was considered to be a symbol of a dynasty; as dynasties would rise and fall and astrologers of each period would prepare a new calendar to be made, with observations for that purpose. Astrological divination was an important part of astronomy. Astronomers took careful note of guest stars, which appeared among the fixed stars.
The supernova that created the Crab Nebula observed in 1054, now known as the SN 1054, is an example of a guest star observed by Chinese astronomers, recorded by the Arab astronomers, although it was not recorded by their European contemporaries. Ancient astronomical records of phenomena like comets and supernovae are sometimes used in modern astronomical studies. Indian astronomy reached China with the expansion of Buddhism during the Later Han. Further translation of Indian works on astronomy was completed in China by the Three Kingdoms era. However, the most detailed incorporation of Indian astronomy occurred only during the Tang Dynasty when a number of Chinese scholars—such as Yi Xing— were versed both in Indian and Chinese astronomy. A system of Indian astronomy was recorded in China as Jiuzhi-li, the author of, an Indian by the name of Qutan Xida—a translation of Devanagari Gotama Siddha—the director of the Tang dynasty's national astronomical observatory. During the 8th century, the astronomical table of sines by the Indian astronomer and mathematician, were translated into the Chinese astronomical and mathematical book of the Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era, compiled in 718 CE during the Tang Dynasty.
The Kaiyuan Zhanjing was compiled by Gautama Siddha, an astronomer and astrologer born in Chang'an, whose family was from India. He was notable for his translation of the Navagraha calendar into Chinese. Gautama Siddha introduced Indian numerals with zero in 718 in China as a replacement of counting rods. In 3rd-century C. E, the Matanaga avadha was translated into Chinese.although the original is believed to date earlier. It gives the lengths of monthly shadows of a 12-inch gnomon, the standard parameter of Indian astronomy; the work mentions the 28 Indian nakshatras. In the beginning of the second century, Sardulakarnavadana was translated into Chinese several times, This work contains the usual Sanskrit names of the 28 nakshatras. Starting with krttika. From the 1st century onward Lalitavistara was translated into Chinese several times, it is in this work that the famous Buddhist centesimal-scale counting occurs during the dialogue between Prince Gautamaand and the mathematician Arjuna. The first series of counts ends with tallaksana, beyond which eight more ganana series are mentioned.
Atomic-scale counting is mentioned. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva in the early fifth century.16 The astronomical parameters mentioned in this translation are comparable to those given in the Vedanga Jyotisha. Indian system of numeration appeared in the Chinese work Ta PaoChi Ching, translated by Upasunya The Chinese translations of the following works are mentioned in the Sui Shu, or Official History of the Sui Dynasty: Po-lo-men Thien Wen Ching in 21 books. Po-lo-men Chieh-Chhieh Hsien-jen Thien Wen Shuo in 30 books. Po-lo-men Thien Ching in one book. Mo-teng-Chia Ching Huang-thu in onebook. Po-lo-men Suan Ching in three books. Po-lo-men Su
A star catalogue or star catalog, is an astronomical catalogue that lists stars. In astronomy, many stars are referred to by catalogue numbers. There are a great many different star catalogues which have been produced for different purposes over the years, this article covers only some of the more quoted ones. Star catalogues were compiled by many different ancient people, including the Babylonians, Chinese and Arabs, they were sometimes accompanied by a star chart for illustration. Most modern catalogues are available in electronic format and can be downloaded from space agencies data centres. Completeness and accuracy is described by the weakest apparent magnitude V and the accuracy of the positions. From their existing records, it is known that the ancient Egyptians recorded the names of only a few identifiable constellations and a list of thirty-six decans that were used as a star clock; the Egyptians called the circumpolar star "the star that cannot perish" and, although they made no known formal star catalogues, they nonetheless created extensive star charts of the night sky which adorn the coffins and ceilings of tomb chambers.
Although the ancient Sumerians were the first to record the names of constellations on clay tablets, the earliest known star catalogues were compiled by the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia in the late 2nd millennium BC, during the Kassite Period. They are better known by their Assyrian-era name'Three Stars Each'; these star catalogues, written on clay tablets, listed thirty-six stars: twelve for "Anu" along the celestial equator, twelve for "Ea" south of that, twelve for "Enlil" to the north. The Mul. Apin lists, dated to sometime before the Neo-Babylonian Empire, are direct textual descendants of the "Three Stars Each" lists and their constellation patterns show similarities to those of Greek civilization. In Ancient Greece, the astronomer and mathematician Eudoxus laid down a full set of the classical constellations around 370 BC, his catalogue Phaenomena, rewritten by Aratus of Soli between 275 and 250 BC as a didactic poem, became one of the most consulted astronomical texts in antiquity and beyond.
It contains descriptions of the positions of the stars, the shapes of the constellations and provided information on their relative times of rising and setting. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek astronomers Timocharis of Alexandria and Aristillus created another star catalogue. Hipparchus completed his star catalogue in 129 BC, which he compared to Timocharis' and discovered that the longitude of the stars had changed over time; this led him to determine the first value of the precession of the equinoxes. In the 2nd century, Ptolemy of Roman Egypt published a star catalogue as part of his Almagest, which listed 1,022 stars visible from Alexandria. Ptolemy's catalogue was based entirely on an earlier one by Hipparchus, it remained the standard star catalogue in the Arab worlds for over eight centuries. The Islamic astronomer al-Sufi updated it in 964, the star positions were redetermined by Ulugh Beg in 1437, but it was not superseded until the appearance of the thousand-star catalogue of Tycho Brahe in 1598.
Although the ancient Vedas of India specified how the ecliptic was to be divided into twenty-eight nakshatra, Indian constellation patterns were borrowed from Greek ones sometime after Alexander's conquests in Asia in the 4th century BC. The earliest known inscriptions for Chinese star names were written on oracle bones and date to the Shang Dynasty. Sources dating from the Zhou Dynasty which provide star names include the Zuo Zhuan, the Shi Jing, the "Canon of Yao" in the Book of Documents; the Lüshi Chunqiu written by the Qin statesman Lü Buwei provides most of the names for the twenty-eight mansions. An earlier lacquerware chest found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng contains a complete list of the names of the twenty-eight mansions. Star catalogues are traditionally attributed to Shi Shen and Gan De, two rather obscure Chinese astronomers who may have been active in the 4th century BC of the Warring States period; the Shi Shen astronomy is attributed to Shi Shen, the Astronomic star observation to Gan De.
It was not until the Han Dynasty that astronomers started to observe and record names for all the stars that were apparent in the night sky, not just those around the ecliptic. A star catalogue is featured in one of the chapters of the late 2nd-century-BC history work Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and contains the "schools" of Shi Shen and Gan De's work. Sima's catalogue—the Book of Celestial Offices —includes some 90 constellations, the stars therein named after temples, ideas in philosophy, locations such as markets and shops, different people such as farmers and soldiers. For his Spiritual Constitution of the Universe of 120 AD, the astronomer Zhang Heng compiled a star catalogue comprising 124 constellations. Chinese constellation names were adopted by the Koreans and Japanese. A large number of star catalogues were published by Muslim astronomers in the medieval Islamic world; these were Zij treatises, including Arzachel's Tables of Toledo, the Maragheh observatory's Zij-i Ilkhani and Ulugh Beg's Zij-i-Sultani.
Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines. Due to foreshortening, nearby objects show a larger parallax than farther objects when observed from different positions, so parallax can be used to determine distances. To measure large distances, such as the distance of a planet or a star from Earth, astronomers use the principle of parallax. Here, the term parallax is the semi-angle of inclination between two sight-lines to the star, as observed when Earth is on opposite sides of the Sun in its orbit; these distances form the lowest rung of what is called "the cosmic distance ladder", the first in a succession of methods by which astronomers determine the distances to celestial objects, serving as a basis for other distance measurements in astronomy forming the higher rungs of the ladder. Parallax affects optical instruments such as rifle scopes, binoculars and twin-lens reflex cameras that view objects from different angles.
Many animals, including humans, have two eyes with overlapping visual fields that use parallax to gain depth perception. In computer vision the effect is used for computer stereo vision, there is a device called a parallax rangefinder that uses it to find range, in some variations altitude to a target. A simple everyday example of parallax can be seen in the dashboard of motor vehicles that use a needle-style speedometer gauge; when viewed from directly in front, the speed may show 60. As the eyes of humans and other animals are in different positions on the head, they present different views simultaneously; this is the basis of stereopsis, the process by which the brain exploits the parallax due to the different views from the eye to gain depth perception and estimate distances to objects. Animals use motion parallax, in which the animals move to gain different viewpoints. For example, pigeons down to see depth; the motion parallax is exploited in wiggle stereoscopy, computer graphics which provide depth cues through viewpoint-shifting animation rather than through binocular vision.
Parallax arises due to change in viewpoint occurring due to motion of the observer, of the observed, or of both. What is essential is relative motion. By observing parallax, measuring angles, using geometry, one can determine distance. Astronomers use the word "parallax" as a synonym for "distance measurement" by other methods: see parallax #Astronomy. Stellar parallax created by the relative motion between the Earth and a star can be seen, in the Copernican model, as arising from the orbit of the Earth around the Sun: the star only appears to move relative to more distant objects in the sky. In a geostatic model, the movement of the star would have to be taken as real with the star oscillating across the sky with respect to the background stars. Stellar parallax is most measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from the Earth and Sun, i. e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. The parsec is defined as the distance.
Annual parallax is measured by observing the position of a star at different times of the year as the Earth moves through its orbit. Measurement of annual parallax was the first reliable way to determine the distances to the closest stars; the first successful measurements of stellar parallax were made by Friedrich Bessel in 1838 for the star 61 Cygni using a heliometer. Stellar parallax remains the standard for calibrating other measurement methods. Accurate calculations of distance based on stellar parallax require a measurement of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, now based on radar reflection off the surfaces of planets; the angles involved in these calculations are small and thus difficult to measure. The nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri, has a parallax of 0.7687 ± 0.0003 arcsec. This angle is that subtended by an object 2 centimeters in diameter located 5.3 kilometers away. The fact that stellar parallax was so small that it was unobservable at the time was used as the main scientific argument against heliocentrism during the early modern age.
It is clear from Euclid's geometry that the effect would be undetectable if the stars were far enough away, but for various reasons such gigantic distances involved seemed implausible: it was one of Tycho's principal objections to Copernican heliocentrism that in order for it to be compatible with the lack of observable stellar parallax, there would have to be an enormous and unlikely void between the orbit of Saturn and the eighth sphere. In 1989, the satellite Hipparcos was launched for obtaining improved parallaxes and proper motions for over 100,000 nearby stars, increasing the reach of the method tenfold. So, Hipparcos is only able to measure parallax angles for stars up to about 1,600 light-years away, a little more than one percent of the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy; the European Space Agency's Gaia mission, launched in December 2013, will be able to measure parallax angles to an accuracy of 10 microarcseconds, thus mapping nearby stars up to a distance of tens of thousands of ligh