A variable star is a star whose brightness as seen from Earth fluctuates. This variation may be caused by a change in emitted light or by something blocking the light, so variable stars are classified as either: Intrinsic variables, whose luminosity changes. Extrinsic variables, whose apparent changes in brightness are due to changes in the amount of their light that can reach Earth. Many most, stars have at least some variation in luminosity: the energy output of our Sun, for example, varies by about 0.1% over an 11-year solar cycle. An ancient Egyptian calendar of lucky and unlucky days composed some 3,200 years ago may be the oldest preserved historical document of the discovery of a variable star, the eclipsing binary Algol. Of the modern astronomers, the first variable star was identified in 1638 when Johannes Holwarda noticed that Omicron Ceti pulsated in a cycle taking 11 months; this discovery, combined with supernovae observed in 1572 and 1604, proved that the starry sky was not eternally invariable as Aristotle and other ancient philosophers had taught.
In this way, the discovery of variable stars contributed to the astronomical revolution of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The second variable star to be described was the eclipsing variable Algol, by Geminiano Montanari in 1669. Chi Cygni was identified in 1686 by G. Kirch R Hydrae in 1704 by G. D. Maraldi. By 1786 ten variable stars were known. John Goodricke himself discovered Beta Lyrae. Since 1850 the number of known variable stars has increased especially after 1890 when it became possible to identify variable stars by means of photography; the latest edition of the General Catalogue of Variable Stars lists more than 46,000 variable stars in the Milky Way, as well as 10,000 in other galaxies, over 10,000'suspected' variables. The most common kinds of variability involve changes in brightness, but other types of variability occur, in particular changes in the spectrum. By combining light curve data with observed spectral changes, astronomers are able to explain why a particular star is variable.
Variable stars are analysed using photometry, spectrophotometry and spectroscopy. Measurements of their changes in brightness can be plotted to produce light curves. For regular variables, the period of variation and its amplitude can be well established. Peak brightnesses in the light curve are known as maxima. Amateur astronomers can do useful scientific study of variable stars by visually comparing the star with other stars within the same telescopic field of view of which the magnitudes are known and constant. By estimating the variable's magnitude and noting the time of observation a visual lightcurve can be constructed; the American Association of Variable Star Observers collects such observations from participants around the world and shares the data with the scientific community. From the light curve the following data are derived: are the brightness variations periodical, irregular, or unique? What is the period of the brightness fluctuations? What is the shape of the light curve? From the spectrum the following data are derived: what kind of star is it: what is its temperature, its luminosity class? is it a single star, or a binary? does the spectrum change with time?
Changes in brightness may depend on the part of the spectrum, observed if the wavelengths of spectral lines are shifted this points to movements strong magnetic fields on the star betray themselves in the spectrum abnormal emission or absorption lines may be indication of a hot stellar atmosphere, or gas clouds surrounding the star. In few cases it is possible to make pictures of a stellar disk; these may show darker spots on its surface. Combining light curves with spectral data gives a clue as to the changes that occur in a variable star. For example, evidence for a pulsating star is found in its shifting spectrum because its surface periodically moves toward and away from us, with the same frequency as its changing brightness. About two-thirds of all variable stars appear to be pulsating. In the 1930s astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington showed that the mathematical equations that describe the interior of a star may lead to instabilities that cause a star to pulsate; the most common type of instability is related to oscillations in the degree of ionization in outer, convective layers of the star.
Suppose the star is in the swelling phase. Its outer layers expand; because of the decreasing temperature the degree of ionization decreases. This makes the gas more transparent, thus makes it easier for the star to radiate its energy; this in turn will make the star start to contract. As the gas is thereby compressed, it is heated and the degree of ionization again increases. Thi
The term apsis refers to an extreme point in the orbit of an object. It denotes either the respective distance of the bodies; the word comes via Latin from Greek, there denoting a whole orbit, is cognate with apse. Except for the theoretical possibility of one common circular orbit for two bodies of equal mass at diametral positions, there are two apsides for any elliptic orbit, named with the prefixes peri- and ap-/apo-, added in reference to the body being orbited. All periodic orbits are, according to Newton's Laws of motion, ellipses: either the two individual ellipses of both bodies, with the center of mass of this two-body system at the one common focus of the ellipses, or the orbital ellipses, with one body taken as fixed at one focus, the other body orbiting this focus. All these ellipses share a straight line, the line of apsides, that contains their major axes, the foci, the vertices, thus the periapsis and the apoapsis; the major axis of the orbital ellipse is the distance of the apsides, when taken as points on the orbit, or their sum, when taken as distances.
The major axes of the individual ellipses around the barycenter the contributions to the major axis of the orbital ellipses are inverse proportional to the masses of the bodies, i.e. a bigger mass implies a smaller axis/contribution. Only when one mass is sufficiently larger than the other, the individual ellipse of the smaller body around the barycenter comprises the individual ellipse of the larger body as shown in the second figure. For remarkable asymmetry, the barycenter of the two bodies may lie well within the bigger body, e.g. the Earth–Moon barycenter is about 75% of the way from Earth's center to its surface. If the smaller mass is negligible compared to the larger the orbital parameters are independent of the smaller mass. For general orbits, the terms periapsis and apoapsis are used. Pericenter and apocenter are equivalent alternatives, referring explicitly to the respective points on the orbits, whereas periapsis and apoapsis may refer to the smallest and largest distances of the orbiter and its host.
For a body orbiting the Sun, the point of least distance is the perihelion, the point of greatest distance is the aphelion. The terms become apastron when discussing orbits around other stars. For any satellite of Earth, including the Moon, the point of least distance is the perigee and greatest distance the apogee, from Ancient Greek Γῆ, "land" or "earth". For objects in lunar orbit, the point of least distance is sometimes called the pericynthion and the greatest distance the apocynthion. Perilune and apolune are used. In orbital mechanics, the apsides technically refer to the distance measured between the barycenters of the central body and orbiting body. However, in the case of a spacecraft, the terms are used to refer to the orbital altitude of the spacecraft above the surface of the central body; these formulae characterize the pericenter and apocenter of an orbit: Pericenter Maximum speed, v per = μ a, at minimum distance, r per = a. Apocenter Minimum speed, v ap = μ a, at maximum distance, r ap = a.
While, in accordance with Kepler's laws of planetary motion and the conservation of energy, these two quantities are constant for a given orbit: Specific relative angular momentum h = μ a Specific orbital energy ε = − μ 2 a where: a is the semi-major axis: a = r per + r ap 2 μ is the standard gravitational parameter e is the eccentricity, defined as e = r ap − r per r ap + r per = 1 − 2 r ap r per + 1 Note t
The apparent magnitude of an astronomical object is a number, a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The magnitude scale is logarithmic. A difference of 1 in magnitude corresponds to a change in brightness by a factor of 5√100, or about 2.512. The brighter an object appears, the lower its magnitude value, with the brightest astronomical objects having negative apparent magnitudes: for example Sirius at −1.46. The measurement of apparent magnitudes or brightnesses of celestial objects is known as photometry. Apparent magnitudes are used to quantify the brightness of sources at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. An apparent magnitude is measured in a specific passband corresponding to some photometric system such as the UBV system. In standard astronomical notation, an apparent magnitude in the V filter band would be denoted either as mV or simply as V, as in "mV = 15" or "V = 15" to describe a 15th-magnitude object; the scale used to indicate magnitude originates in the Hellenistic practice of dividing stars visible to the naked eye into six magnitudes.
The brightest stars in the night sky were said to be of first magnitude, whereas the faintest were of sixth magnitude, the limit of human visual perception. Each grade of magnitude was considered twice the brightness of the following grade, although that ratio was subjective as no photodetectors existed; this rather crude scale for the brightness of stars was popularized by Ptolemy in his Almagest and is believed to have originated with Hipparchus. In 1856, Norman Robert Pogson formalized the system by defining a first magnitude star as a star, 100 times as bright as a sixth-magnitude star, thereby establishing the logarithmic scale still in use today; this implies that a star of magnitude m is about 2.512 times as bright as a star of magnitude m + 1. This figure, the fifth root of 100, became known as Pogson's Ratio; the zero point of Pogson's scale was defined by assigning Polaris a magnitude of 2. Astronomers discovered that Polaris is variable, so they switched to Vega as the standard reference star, assigning the brightness of Vega as the definition of zero magnitude at any specified wavelength.
Apart from small corrections, the brightness of Vega still serves as the definition of zero magnitude for visible and near infrared wavelengths, where its spectral energy distribution approximates that of a black body for a temperature of 11000 K. However, with the advent of infrared astronomy it was revealed that Vega's radiation includes an Infrared excess due to a circumstellar disk consisting of dust at warm temperatures. At shorter wavelengths, there is negligible emission from dust at these temperatures. However, in order to properly extend the magnitude scale further into the infrared, this peculiarity of Vega should not affect the definition of the magnitude scale. Therefore, the magnitude scale was extrapolated to all wavelengths on the basis of the black-body radiation curve for an ideal stellar surface at 11000 K uncontaminated by circumstellar radiation. On this basis the spectral irradiance for the zero magnitude point, as a function of wavelength, can be computed. Small deviations are specified between systems using measurement apparatuses developed independently so that data obtained by different astronomers can be properly compared, but of greater practical importance is the definition of magnitude not at a single wavelength but applying to the response of standard spectral filters used in photometry over various wavelength bands.
With the modern magnitude systems, brightness over a wide range is specified according to the logarithmic definition detailed below, using this zero reference. In practice such apparent magnitudes do not exceed 30; the brightness of Vega is exceeded by four stars in the night sky at visible wavelengths as well as the bright planets Venus and Jupiter, these must be described by negative magnitudes. For example, the brightest star of the celestial sphere, has an apparent magnitude of −1.4 in the visible. Negative magnitudes for other bright astronomical objects can be found in the table below. Astronomers have developed other photometric zeropoint systems as alternatives to the Vega system; the most used is the AB magnitude system, in which photometric zeropoints are based on a hypothetical reference spectrum having constant flux per unit frequency interval, rather than using a stellar spectrum or blackbody curve as the reference. The AB magnitude zeropoint is defined such that an object's AB and Vega-based magnitudes will be equal in the V filter band.
As the amount of light received by a telescope is reduced by transmission through the Earth's atmosphere, any measurement of apparent magnitude is corrected for what it would have been as seen from above the atmosphere. The dimmer an object appears, the higher the numerical value given to its apparent magnitude, with a difference of 5 magnitudes corresponding to a brightness factor of 100. Therefore, the apparent magnitude m, in the spectral band x, would be given by m x = − 5 log 100 , more expressed in terms of common logarithms as m x
Boötes is a constellation in the northern sky, located between 0° and +60° declination, 13 and 16 hours of right ascension on the celestial sphere. The name comes from the Greek Βοώτης, Boōtēs, meaning “herdsman” or “plowman”. One of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, Boötes is now one of the 88 modern constellations, it contains the fourth-brightest star in the orange giant Arcturus. Epsilon Bootis, or Izar, is a colourful multiple star popular with amateur astronomers. Boötes is home to many other bright stars, including eight above the fourth magnitude and an additional 21 above the fifth magnitude, making a total of 29 stars visible to the naked eye. In ancient Babylon, the stars of Boötes were known as SHU. PA, they were depicted as the god Enlil, the leader of the Babylonian pantheon and special patron of farmers. Boötes may have been represented by the foreleg constellation in ancient Egypt. According to this interpretation, the constellation depicts the shape of an animal foreleg.
The name Boötes was first used by Homer in his Odyssey as a celestial reference point for navigation, described as "late-setting" or "slow to set", translated as the "Plowman". Whom Boötes is supposed to represent in Greek mythology is not clear. According to one version, he was a son of Demeter, twin brother of Plutus, a plowman who drove the oxen in the constellation Ursa Major; this is corroborated by the constellation's name, which itself means "ox-driver" or "herdsman." The ancient Greeks saw. This influenced the name's etymology, derived from the Greek for "noisy" or "ox-driver". Another myth associated with Boötes relates that he invented the plow and was memorialized for his ingenuity as a constellation. Another myth associated with Boötes by Hyginus is that of Icarius, schooled as a grape farmer and winemaker by Dionysus. Icarius made wine so strong that those who drank it appeared poisoned, which caused shepherds to avenge their poisoned friends by killing Icarius. Maera, Icarius' dog, brought his daughter Erigone to her father's body, whereupon both she and the dog committed suicide.
Zeus chose to honor all three by placing them in the sky as constellations: Icarius as Boötes, Erigone as Virgo, Maera as Canis Major or Canis Minor. Following another reading, the constellation is identified with Arcas and referred to as Arcas and Arcturus, son of Zeus and Callisto. Arcas was brought up by his maternal grandfather Lycaon, to whom one day Zeus had a meal. To verify that the guest was the king of the gods, Lycaon killed his grandson and prepared a meal made from his flesh. Zeus noticed and became angry, transforming Lycaon into a wolf and giving life back to his son. In the meantime Callisto had been transformed into a she-bear by Zeus's wife Hera, angry at Zeus's infidelity; this is corroborated by the Greek name for Boötes, which means "Bear Watcher". Callisto, in the form of a bear was killed by her son, out hunting. Zeus rescued her, taking her into the sky where she became Ursa Major, "the Great Bear". Arcturus, the name of the constellation's brightest star, comes from the Greek word meaning "guardian of the bear".
Sometimes Arcturus is depicted as leading the hunting dogs of nearby Canes Venatici and driving the bears of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Several former constellations were formed from stars now included in Boötes. Quadrans Muralis, the Quadrant, was a constellation created near Beta Boötis from faint stars, it was designated in 1795 by Jérôme Lalande, an astronomer who used a quadrant to perform detailed astronometric measurements. Lalande worked with others to predict the 1758 return of Halley's Comet. Quadrans Muralis was formed from the stars of eastern Boötes, western Hercules, Draco, it was called Le Mural by Jean Fortin in his 1795 Atlas Céleste. The constellation was quite faint, with its brightest stars reaching the 5th magnitude. Mons Maenalus, representing the Maenalus mountains, was created by Johannes Hevelius in 1687 at the foot of the constellation's figure; the mountain was named for the son of Maenalus. The mountain, one of Diana's hunting grounds, was holy to Pan; the stars of Boötes were incorporated into many different Chinese constellations.
Arcturus was part of the most prominent of these, variously designated as the celestial king's throne or the Blue Dragon's horn. Arcturus was given such importance in Chinese celestial mythology because of its status marking the beginning of the lunar calendar, as well as its status as the brightest star in the northern night sky. Two constellations flanked Daijiao: Yousheti to Zuosheti to the left. Zuosheti was formed from modern Zeta, Pi Boötis, while Yousheti was formed from modern Eta and Upsilon Boötis. Dixi, the Emperor's ceremonial banquet mat, was north of Arcturus, consisting of the stars 12, 11, 9 Boötis. Another northern constellation was Qigong, the Seven Dukes, which straddled the Boötes-Hercules border, it included either Delta Boötis or Beta Boötis as its terminus. The other Chinese constellations made up of the stars of Boötes existed in the modern constellation's north. Tianqiang, the spear, was formed from Iota and Theta Boötis. There were two
Minute and second of arc
A minute of arc, arc minute, or minute arc is a unit of angular measurement equal to 1/60 of one degree. Since one degree is 1/360 of a turn, one minute of arc is 1/21600 of a turn – it is for this reason that the Earth's circumference is exactly 21,600 nautical miles. A minute of arc is π/10800 of a radian. A second of arc, arcsecond, or arc second is 1/60 of an arcminute, 1/3600 of a degree, 1/1296000 of a turn, π/648000 of a radian; these units originated in Babylonian astronomy as sexagesimal subdivisions of the degree. To express smaller angles, standard SI prefixes can be employed; the number of square arcminutes in a complete sphere is 4 π 2 = 466 560 000 π ≈ 148510660 square arcminutes. The names "minute" and "second" have nothing to do with the identically named units of time "minute" or "second"; the identical names reflect the ancient Babylonian number system, based on the number 60. The standard symbol for marking the arcminute is the prime, though a single quote is used where only ASCII characters are permitted.
One arcminute is thus written 1′. It is abbreviated as arcmin or amin or, less the prime with a circumflex over it; the standard symbol for the arcsecond is the double prime, though a double quote is used where only ASCII characters are permitted. One arcsecond is thus written 1″, it is abbreviated as arcsec or asec. In celestial navigation, seconds of arc are used in calculations, the preference being for degrees and decimals of a minute, for example, written as 42° 25.32′ or 42° 25.322′. This notation has been carried over into marine GPS receivers, which display latitude and longitude in the latter format by default; the full moon's average apparent size is about 31 arcminutes. An arcminute is the resolution of the human eye. An arcsecond is the angle subtended by a U. S. dime coin at a distance of 4 kilometres. An arcsecond is the angle subtended by an object of diameter 725.27 km at a distance of one astronomical unit, an object of diameter 45866916 km at one light-year, an object of diameter one astronomical unit at a distance of one parsec, by definition.
A milliarcsecond is about the size of a dime atop the Eiffel Tower. A microarcsecond is about the size of a period at the end of a sentence in the Apollo mission manuals left on the Moon as seen from Earth. A nanoarcsecond is about the size of a penny on Neptune's moon Triton as observed from Earth. Notable examples of size in arcseconds are: Hubble Space Telescope has calculational resolution of 0.05 arcseconds and actual resolution of 0.1 arcseconds, close to the diffraction limit. Crescent Venus measures between 66 seconds of arc. Since antiquity the arcminute and arcsecond have been used in astronomy. In the ecliptic coordinate system and longitude; the principal exception is right ascension in equatorial coordinates, measured in time units of hours and seconds. The arcsecond is often used to describe small astronomical angles such as the angular diameters of planets, the proper motion of stars, the separation of components of binary star systems, parallax, the small change of position of a star in the course of a year or of a solar system body as the Earth rotates.
These small angles may be written in milliarcseconds, or thousandths of an arcsecond. The unit of distance, the parsec, named from the parallax of one arc second, was developed for such parallax measurements, it is the distance at which the mean radius of the Earth's orbit would subtend an angle of one arcsecond. The ESA astrometric space probe Gaia, launched in 2013, can approximate star positions to 7 microarcseconds. Apart from the Sun, the star with the largest angular diameter from Earth is R Doradus, a red giant with a diameter of 0.05 arcsecond. Because of the effects of atmospheric seeing, ground-based telescopes will smear the image of a star to an angular diameter of about 0.5 arcsecond. The dwarf planet Pluto has proven difficult to resolve because its angular diameter is about 0.1 arcsecond. Space telescopes are diffraction limited. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope can reach an angular size of stars down to about 0.1″. Techniques exist for improving seeing on the ground. Adaptive optics, for example, can produce images around 0.05 arcsecond on a 10 m class telescope.
Minutes and seconds of arc are used in cartography and navigation. At sea level one minute of arc
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.
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