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
Supergiants are among the most massive and most luminous stars. Supergiant stars occupy the top region of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram with absolute visual magnitudes between about −3 and −8; the temperature range of supergiant stars spans from about 3,450 K to over 20,000 K. The title supergiant, as applied to a star, does not have a single concrete definition; the term giant star was first coined by Hertzsprung when it became apparent that the majority of stars fell into two distinct regions of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. One region contained larger and more luminous stars of spectral types A to M and received the name giant. Subsequently, as they lacked any measurable parallax, it became apparent that some of these stars were larger and more luminous than the bulk, the term super-giant arose adopted as supergiant. Supergiant stars can be identified on the basis of their spectra, with distinctive lines sensitive to high luminosity and low surface gravity. In 1897, Antonia C. Maury had divided stars based on the widths of their spectral lines, with her class "c" identifying stars with the narrowest lines.
Although it was not known at the time, these were the most luminous stars. In 1943 Morgan and Keenan formalised the definition of spectral luminosity classes, with class I referring to supergiant stars; the same system of MK luminosity classes is still used today, with refinements based on the increased resolution of modern spectra. Supergiants occur in every spectral class from young blue class O supergiants to evolved red class M supergiants; because they are enlarged compared to main-sequence and giant stars of the same spectral type, they have lower surface gravities, changes can be observed in their line profiles. Supergiants are evolved stars with higher levels of heavy elements than main-sequence stars; this is the basis of the MK luminosity system which assigns stars to luminosity classes purely from observing their spectra. In addition to the line changes due to low surface gravity and fusion products, the most luminous stars have high mass-loss rates and resulting clouds of expelled circumstellar materials which can produce emission lines, P Cygni profiles, or forbidden lines.
The MK system assigns stars to luminosity classes: Ib for supergiants. In reality there is much more of a continuum than well defined bands for these classifications, classifications such as Iab are used for intermediate luminosity supergiants. Supergiant spectra are annotated to indicate spectral peculiarities, for example B2 Iae or F5 Ipec. Supergiants can be defined as a specific phase in the evolutionary history of certain stars. Stars with initial masses above 8-10 M☉ and smoothly initiate helium core fusion after they have exhausted their hydrogen, continue fusing heavier elements after helium exhaustion until they develop an iron core, at which point the core collapses to produce a Type 2 supernova. Once these massive stars leave the main sequence, their atmospheres inflate, they are described as supergiants. Stars under 10 M☉ will never form an iron core and in evolutionary terms do not become supergiants, although they can reach luminosities thousands of times the sun's, they cannot fuse carbon and heavier elements after the helium is exhausted, so they just lose their outer layers, leaving the core of a white dwarf.
The phase where these stars have both hydrogen and helium burning shells is referred to as the asymptotic giant branch, as stars become more and more luminous class M stars. Stars of 8-10 M☉ may fuse sufficient carbon on the AGB to produce an oxygen-neon core and an electron-capture supernova, but astrophysicists categorise these as super-AGB stars rather than supergiants. There are several categories of evolved stars which are not supergiants in evolutionary terms but may show supergiant spectral features or have luminosities comparable to supergiants. Asymptotic-giant-branch and post-AGB stars are evolved lower-mass red giants with luminosities that can be comparable to more massive red supergiants, but because of their low mass, being in a different stage of development, their lives ending in a different way, astrophysicists prefer to keep them separate; the dividing line becomes blurred at around 7–10 M☉ where stars start to undergo limited fusion of elements heavier than helium. Specialists studying these stars refer to them as super AGB stars, since they have many properties in common with AGB such as thermal pulsing.
Others describe them as low-mass supergiants since they start to burn elements heavier than helium and can explode as supernovae. Many post-AGB stars receive spectral types with supergiant luminosity classes. For example, RV Tauri has an Ia luminosity class despite being less massive than the sun; some AGB stars receive a supergiant luminosity class, most notably W Virginis variables such as W Virginis itself, stars that are executing a blue loop triggered by thermal pulsing. A small number of Mira variables and other late AGB stars have supergiant luminosity classes, for example α Herculis. Classical Cepheid variables have supergiant luminosity classes, although only the most luminous and massive will go on to develop an iron core; the majority of them are intermediate mass stars fusing helium in their cores and will transition to the asymptotic giant branch. Δ Cephei itself is an example with a luminosity of 2,000 L☉ and a mass of 4.5 M☉. Wolf–Rayet stars are high-mass luminous evolved stars, hotter than most supergiants and smaller, visually less
Stellar parallax is the apparent shift of position of any nearby star against the background of distant objects. Created by the different orbital positions of Earth, the small observed shift is largest at time intervals of about six months, when Earth arrives at opposite sides of the Sun in its orbit, giving a baseline distance of about two astronomical units between observations; the parallax itself is considered to be half of this maximum, about equivalent to the observational shift that would occur due to the different positions of Earth and the Sun, a baseline of one astronomical unit. Stellar parallax is so difficult to detect that its existence was the subject of much debate in astronomy for hundreds of years, it was first observed in 1806 by Giuseppe Calandrelli who reported parallax in α-Lyrae in his work "Osservazione e riflessione sulla parallasse annua dall’alfa della Lira". In 1838 Friedrich Bessel made the first successful parallax measurement, for the star 61 Cygni, using a Fraunhofer heliometer at Königsberg Observatory.
Once a star's parallax is known, its distance from Earth can be computed trigonometrically. But the more distant an object is, the smaller its parallax. With 21st-century techniques in astrometry, the limits of accurate measurement make distances farther away than about 100 parsecs too approximate to be useful when obtained by this technique; this limits the applicability of parallax as a measurement of distance to objects that are close on a galactic scale. Other techniques, such as spectral red-shift, are required to measure the distance of more remote objects. Stellar parallax measures are given in the tiny units of arcseconds, or in thousandths of arcseconds; the distance unit parsec is defined as the length of the leg of a right triangle adjacent to the angle of one arcsecond at one vertex, where the other leg is 1 AU long. Because stellar parallaxes and distances all involve such skinny right triangles, a convenient trigonometric approximation can be used to convert parallaxes to distance.
The approximate distance is the reciprocal of the parallax: d ≃ 1 / p. For example, Proxima Centauri, whose parallax is 0.7687, is 1 / 0.7687 parsecs = 1.3009 parsecs distant. Stellar parallax is so small that its apparent absence was used as a 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 Brahe'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. 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 Earth's axis, catalogued 3222 stars. Stellar parallax is most measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from Earth and Sun, i.e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of 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 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. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer 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. 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 Earth to the Sun, now known to exquisite accuracy 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. In 1989 the satellite Hipparcos was launched for obtaining parallaxes and proper motions of nearby stars, increasing the number of stellar parallaxes measured to milliarcsecond accuracy a thousandfold. 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 Hubble telescope WFC3 now has a precision of 20 to 40 microarcseconds, enabling reliable distance measurements u
Carina is a constellation in the southern sky. Its name is Latin for the keel of a ship, it was part of the larger constellation of Argo Navis until that constellation was divided into three pieces, the other two being Puppis, Vela. Carina was once a part of Argo Navis, the great ship of Jason and the Argonauts who searched for the Golden Fleece; the constellation of Argo was introduced in ancient Greece. However, due to the massive size of Argo Navis and the sheer number of stars that required separate designation, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille divided Argo into three sections in 1763, including Carina. In the 19th century, these three became established as separate constellations, were formally included in the list of 88 modern IAU constellations in 1930. Lacaille kept a single set of Greek letters for the whole of Argo, separate sets of Latin letter designations for each of the three sections. Therefore, Carina has the α, β and ε, Vela has γ and δ, Puppis has ζ, so on. Carina contains Canopus, a white-hued supergiant, the second brightest star in the night sky at magnitude −0.72, 313 light-years from Earth.
Alpha Carinae, as Canopus is formally designated, is a variable star that varies by 0.1 magnitudes. Its traditional name comes from the mythological Canopus, a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta. There are several other stars above magnitude 3 in Carina. Beta Carinae, traditionally called Miaplacidus, is a blue-white hued star of magnitude 1.7, 111 light-years from Earth. Epsilon Carinae is an orange-hued giant star bright to Miaplacidus at magnitude 1.9. Another bright star is the blue-white hued Theta Carinae. Theta Carinae is the most prominent member of the cluster IC 2602. Iota Carinae is a white-hued supergiant star of 690 light-years from Earth. Eta Carinae is the most prominent variable star in Carina, it was first discovered to be unusual in 1677, when its magnitude rose to 4, attracting the attention of Edmond Halley. Eta Carinae is inside NGC 3372 called the Carina Nebula, it had a long outburst in 1827, when it brightened to magnitude 1, only fading to magnitude 1.5 in 1828. Its most prominent outburst made Eta Carinae the equal of Sirius.
However, since 1843, Eta Carinae has remained placid, having a magnitude between 6.5 and 7.9. However, in 1998, it brightened though only to magnitude 5.0, a far less drastic outburst. Eta Carinae is a binary star, with a companion. There are several less prominent variable stars in Carina. L Carinae is a Cepheid variable noted for its brightness, it is a yellow-hued supergiant star with a minimum magnitude of 4.2 and a maximum magnitude of 3.3. Two bright Mira variable stars are in Carina: S Carinae. R Carinae has a minimum magnitude of 10.0 and a maximum magnitude of 4.0. Its period is 309 days and it is 416 light-years from Earth. S Carinae is similar, with a minimum magnitude of 10.0 and a maximum magnitude of 5.0. However, S Carinae has a shorter period – 150 days, though it is much more distant at 1300 light-years from Earth. Carina is home to binary stars. Upsilon Carinae is a binary star with two blue-white hued giant components, 1600 light-years from Earth; the primary is of magnitude 3.0 and the secondary is of magnitude 6.0.
Two asterisms are prominent in Carina. One is known as the'Diamond Cross', larger than the Southern Cross, from the perspective of the southern hemisphere viewer, upside down, the long axes of the two crosses being close to parallel. Another asterism in the constellation is the False Cross mistaken for the Southern Cross, an asterism in Crux; the False Cross consists of two stars in Carina, Iota Carinae and Epsilon Carinae, two stars in Vela, Kappa Velorum and Delta Velorum. Carina is known for its namesake nebula, NGC 3372, discovered by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751, which contains several nebulae; the Carina Nebula overall is an extended emission nebula 8,000 light-years away and 300 light-years wide that includes vast star-forming regions. It has an apparent diameter of over 2 degrees, its central region is called the Keyhole Nebula. This was described in 1847 by John Herschel, likened to a keyhole by Emma Converse in 1873; the Keyhole is about seven light-years wide and is composed of ionized hydrogen, with two major star-forming regions.
The Homunculus Nebula is a planetary nebula visible to the naked eye, being ejected by the erratic luminous blue variable star Eta Carinae, the most massive visible star known. Eta Carinae is so massive that it has reached the theoretical upper limit for the mass of a star and is therefore unstable, it is known for its outbursts. Because of this instability and history of outbursts, Eta Carinae is considered a prime supernova candidate for the next several hundred thousand years because it has reached the end of its estimated million-year life span. NGC 2516 is an open cluster, both quite large (ap
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
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 Milky Way; 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 and Aristillus to discover Earth's precession. In doing so, he developed the brightness scale still in use today. Hipparchus compiled a catalogue with their positions. Hipparchus's successor, included a catalogue of 1,022 stars in his work the Almagest, giving their location and brightness. In the 10th century, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi carried out observations on the stars and described their positions and star color. Ibn Yunus observed more than 10,000 entries for the Sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 metres.
His observations on eclipses were still used centuries in Simon Newcomb's investigations on the motion of the Moon, while his other observations of the motions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn inspired Laplace's Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn. In the 15th century, the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg compiled the Zij-i-Sultani, in which he catalogued 1,019 stars. Like the earlier catalogs of Hipparchus and Ptolemy, Ulugh Beg's catalogue is estimated to have been precise to within 20 minutes of arc. In the 16th century, Tycho Brahe used improved instruments, including large mural instruments, to measure star positions more than with a precision of 15–35 arcsec. Taqi al-Din measured the right ascension of the stars at the Constantinople Observatory of Taqi ad-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 Earth's axis.
His cataloguing of 3222 stars was refined in 1807 by Friedrich Bessel, the father of modern astrometry. He made the first measurement of stellar parallax: 0.3 arcsec for the binary star 61 Cygni. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer 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; this technology made astrometry less expensive. In 1989, the European Space Agency's Hipparcos satellite took astrometry into orbit, where it could be less affected by mechanical forces of the Earth and optical distortions from its atmosphere. 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 and proper motions of 118,218 stars were determined with an unprecedented 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 analyzed during the Hipparcos mission. Today, the catalogue most used is USNO-B1.0, an all-sky catalogue that tracks proper motions, positions and other characteristics for over one billion stellar objects. 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. Apart from the fundamental function of providing astronomers with a reference frame to report their observations in, astrometry is fundamental for fields like celestial mechanics, stellar dynamics and galactic astronomy. In observational astronomy, astrometric techniques help identify stellar objects by their unique motions, it is instrumental for keeping time, in that UTC is the atomic time synchronized to Earth's rotation by means of exact astronomical observations.
Astrometry is an important step in the cosmic distance ladder because it establishes parallax distance estimates for stars in the Milky Way. Astrometry has been used to support claims of extrasolar planet detection by measuring the displacement the proposed planets cause in their parent star's apparent position on the sky, due to their mutual orbit around the center of mass of the system. Astrometry is more accurate in space missions that are not affected by the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere. NASA's planned Space Interferometry Mission was to utilize astrometric techniques to detect terrestrial planets orbiting 200 or so of the nearest solar-type stars; the European Space Agency's Gaia Mission, launched in 2013, applies astrometric techniques in its stellar census. In addition to the detection of exoplanets, it can be used to determine their mass. Astrometric measurements are used by astrophysicists to constrain certain models in celestial mechanics. By measuring the velocities of pulsars, it is possible to put a limit on the asymmetry of supernova explosions.
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