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
The effective temperature of a body such as a star or planet is the temperature of a black body that would emit the same total amount of electromagnetic radiation. Effective temperature is used as an estimate of a body's surface temperature when the body's emissivity curve is not known; when the star's or planet's net emissivity in the relevant wavelength band is less than unity, the actual temperature of the body will be higher than the effective temperature. The net emissivity may be low due to surface or atmospheric properties, including greenhouse effect; the effective temperature of a star is the temperature of a black body with the same luminosity per surface area as the star and is defined according to the Stefan–Boltzmann law FBol = σTeff4. Notice that the total luminosity of a star is L = 4πR2σTeff4, where R is the stellar radius; the definition of the stellar radius is not straightforward. More rigorously the effective temperature corresponds to the temperature at the radius, defined by a certain value of the Rosseland optical depth within the stellar atmosphere.
The effective temperature and the bolometric luminosity are the two fundamental physical parameters needed to place a star on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. Both effective temperature and bolometric luminosity depend on the chemical composition of a star; the effective temperature of our Sun is around 5780 kelvins. Stars have a decreasing temperature gradient; the "core temperature" of the Sun—the temperature at the centre of the Sun where nuclear reactions take place—is estimated to be 15,000,000 K. The color index of a star indicates its temperature from the cool—by stellar standards—red M stars that radiate in the infrared to the hot blue O stars that radiate in the ultraviolet; the effective temperature of a star indicates the amount of heat that the star radiates per unit of surface area. From the warmest surfaces to the coolest is the sequence of stellar classifications known as O, B, A, F, G, K, M. A red star could be a tiny red dwarf, a star of feeble energy production and a small surface or a bloated giant or supergiant star such as Antares or Betelgeuse, either of which generates far greater energy but passes it through a surface so large that the star radiates little per unit of surface area.
A star near the middle of the spectrum, such as the modest Sun or the giant Capella radiates more energy per unit of surface area than the feeble red dwarf stars or the bloated supergiants, but much less than such a white or blue star as Vega or Rigel. To find the effective temperature of a planet, it can be calculated by equating the power received by the planet to the known power emitted by a blackbody of temperature T. Take the case of a planet at a distance D from the star, of luminosity L. Assuming the star radiates isotropically and that the planet is a long way from the star, the power absorbed by the planet is given by treating the planet as a disc of radius r, which intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D; the calculation assumes the planet reflects some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo of 0 means all of it is absorbed; the expression for absorbed power is then: P a b s = L r 2 4 D 2 The next assumption we can make is that the entire planet is at the same temperature T, that the planet radiates as a blackbody.
The Stefan–Boltzmann law gives an expression for the power radiated by the planet: P r a d = 4 π r 2 σ T 4 Equating these two expressions and rearranging gives an expression for the effective temperature: T = L 16 π σ D 2 4 Note that the planet's radius has cancelled out of the final expression. The effective temperature for Jupiter from this calculation is 88 K and 51 Pegasi b is 1,258 K. A better estimate of effective temperature for some planets, such as Jupiter, would need to include the internal heating as a power input; the actual temperature depends on atmosphere effects. The actual temperature from spectroscopic analysis for HD 209458 b is 1,130 K, but the effective temperature is 1,359 K; the internal heating within Jupiter raises the effective temperature to about 152 K. The surface temperature of a planet can be estimated by modifying the effective-temperature calculation to account for emissivity and temperature variation; the area of the planet that absorbs the power from the star is Aabs, some fraction of the total surface area Atotal = 4πr2, where r is the radius of the planet.
This area intercepts some of the power, spread over the surface of a sphere of radius D. We allow the planet to reflect some of the incoming radiation by incorporating a parameter a called the albedo. An albedo of 1 means that all the radiation is reflected, an albedo
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
The radial velocity of an object with respect to a given point is the rate of change of the distance between the object and the point. That is, the radial velocity is the component of the object's velocity that points in the direction of the radius connecting the object and the point. In astronomy, the point is taken to be the observer on Earth, so the radial velocity denotes the speed with which the object moves away from or approaches the Earth. In astronomy, radial velocity is measured to the first order of approximation by Doppler spectroscopy; the quantity obtained by this method may be called the barycentric radial-velocity measure or spectroscopic radial velocity. However, due to relativistic and cosmological effects over the great distances that light travels to reach the observer from an astronomical object, this measure cannot be transformed to a geometric radial velocity without additional assumptions about the object and the space between it and the observer. By contrast, astrometric radial velocity is determined by astrometric observations.
Light from an object with a substantial relative radial velocity at emission will be subject to the Doppler effect, so the frequency of the light decreases for objects that were receding and increases for objects that were approaching. The radial velocity of a star or other luminous distant objects can be measured by taking a high-resolution spectrum and comparing the measured wavelengths of known spectral lines to wavelengths from laboratory measurements. A positive radial velocity indicates the distance between the objects was increasing. In many binary stars, the orbital motion causes radial velocity variations of several kilometers per second; as the spectra of these stars vary due to the Doppler effect, they are called spectroscopic binaries. Radial velocity can be used to estimate the ratio of the masses of the stars, some orbital elements, such as eccentricity and semimajor axis; the same method has been used to detect planets around stars, in the way that the movement's measurement determines the planet's orbital period, while the resulting radial-velocity amplitude allows the calculation of the lower bound on a planet's mass using the binary mass function.
Radial velocity methods alone may only reveal a lower bound, since a large planet orbiting at a high angle to the line of sight will perturb its star radially as much as a much smaller planet with an orbital plane on the line of sight. It has been suggested that planets with high eccentricities calculated by this method may in fact be two-planet systems of circular or near-circular resonant orbit; the radial velocity method to detect exoplanets is based on the detection of variations in the velocity of the central star, due to the changing direction of the gravitational pull from an exoplanet as it orbits the star. When the star moves towards us, its spectrum is blueshifted, while it is redshifted when it moves away from us. By looking at the spectrum of a star—and so, measuring its velocity—it can be determined if it moves periodically due to the influence of an exoplanet companion. From the instrumental perspective, velocities are measured relative to the telescope's motion. So an important first step of the data reduction is to remove the contributions of the Earth's elliptic motion around the sun at ± 30 km/s, a monthly rotation of ± 13 m/s of the Earth around the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system, the daily rotation of the telescope with the Earth crust around the Earth axis, up to ±460 m/s at the equator and proportional to the cosine of the telescope's geographic latitude, small contributions from the Earth polar motion at the level of mm/s, contributions of 230 km/s from the motion around the Galactic center and associated proper motions.
In the case of spectroscopic measurements corrections of the order of ±20 cm/s with respect to aberration. Proper motion Peculiar velocity Relative velocity Space velocity The Radial Velocity Equation in the Search for Exoplanets
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
A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common barycenter. Systems of two or more stars are called multiple star systems; these systems when more distant appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, are revealed as multiple by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems; the term double star is used synonymously with binary star. Optical doubles are so called because the two stars appear close together in the sky as seen from the Earth, their "doubleness" depends only on this optical effect. A double star can be revealed as optical by means of differences in their parallax measurements, proper motions, or radial velocities. Most known double stars have not been studied adequately to determine whether they are optical doubles or doubles physically bound through gravitation into a multiple star system. Binary star systems are important in astrophysics because calculations of their orbits allow the masses of their component stars to be directly determined, which in turn allows other stellar parameters, such as radius and density, to be indirectly estimated.
This determines an empirical mass-luminosity relationship from which the masses of single stars can be estimated. Binary stars are detected optically, in which case they are called visual binaries. Many visual binaries have long orbital periods of several centuries or millennia and therefore have orbits which are uncertain or poorly known, they may be detected by indirect techniques, such as spectroscopy or astrometry. If a binary star happens to orbit in a plane along our line of sight, its components will eclipse and transit each other. If components in binary star systems are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain. Examples of binaries are Sirius, Cygnus X-1. Binary stars are common as the nuclei of many planetary nebulae, are the progenitors of both novae and type Ia supernovae; the term binary was first used in this context by Sir William Herschel in 1802, when he wrote: If, on the contrary, two stars should be situated near each other, at the same time so far insulated as not to be materially affected by the attractions of neighbouring stars, they will compose a separate system, remain united by the bond of their own mutual gravitation towards each other.
This should be called a real double star. By the modern definition, the term binary star is restricted to pairs of stars which revolve around a common center of mass. Binary stars which can be resolved with a telescope or interferometric methods are known as visual binaries. For most of the known visual binary stars one whole revolution has not been observed yet, they are observed to have travelled along a curved path or a partial arc; the more general term double star is used for pairs of stars which are seen to be close together in the sky. This distinction is made in languages other than English. Double stars may be binary systems or may be two stars that appear to be close together in the sky but have vastly different true distances from the Sun; the latter are termed optical optical pairs. Since the invention of the telescope, many pairs of double stars have been found. Early examples include Acrux. Mizar, in the Big Dipper, was observed to be double by Giovanni Battista Riccioli in 1650; the bright southern star Acrux, in the Southern Cross, was discovered to be double by Father Fontenay in 1685.
John Michell was the first to suggest that double stars might be physically attached to each other when he argued in 1767 that the probability that a double star was due to a chance alignment was small. William Herschel began observing double stars in 1779 and soon thereafter published catalogs of about 700 double stars. By 1803, he had observed changes in the relative positions in a number of double stars over the course of 25 years, concluded that they must be binary systems. Since this time, many more double stars have been measured; the Washington Double Star Catalog, a database of visual double stars compiled by the United States Naval Observatory, contains over 100,000 pairs of double stars, including optical doubles as well as binary stars. Orbits are known for only a few thousand of these double stars, most have not been ascertained to be either true binaries or optical double stars; this can be determined by observing the relative motion of the pairs. If the motion is part of an orbit, or if the stars have similar radial velocities and the difference in their proper motions is small compared to their common proper motion, the pair is physical.
One of the tasks that remains for visual observers of double stars is to obtain sufficient observations to prove or disprove gravitational connection. Binary stars are classified into four types accordi