How to define astronomical unit? Astronomers use astronomical units – or AU – to represent the distance of the solar system. We can say that one astronomical unit (AU) outlines the mean distance between the Earth and our Sun for general reference. An AU is nearly 93 million miles (150 million km). It’s approximately eight light minutes. The definition of AU also means distances in astronomical units to pre-eminent solar system objects. The astronomical unit is applied primarily for measuring distances around other stars or within the Solar System.
It is also an essential element in the definition of another unit of astronomical length, the parsec. The astronomical unit is quite instrumental in formulating and understanding the distance between stellar objects and is crucial in the calculations and computation involving astronomical problems. One astronomical unit is equal to 92955807 miles.
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Astronomical Unit Definition
According to the prevailing astronomical convention, 1 astronomical unit is equal to 149,597,870.7 kilometres (or 92,955,807 miles). As the earth orbits the sun with a varying orbital distance, we need to consider the average distance, therefore, one astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. In other words, the Earth and the Sun mid-distance varies in a single year. The varying distance between the earth and the sun is maximum at the aphelion ( 152,100,000 km or 94,500,000 miles or 1.016 AUs) and the minimum at the perihelion (147,095,000 km or 91,401,000 miles or 0,983 AUs).
1 astronomical unit value = 149597870700 metres (exactly)
≈ 92955807 miles
≈ 499.00478384 light-seconds
≈ 4.8481368×10−6 parsecs
≈ 1.5812507×10−5 light-years
The speed of light can be represented in terms of astronomical units. As we know 299792458 m/s is the speed of light which is equal to precisely 299792458 × 86400 ÷ 149597870700 or about 173.144632674240 AU/d, some 60 parts per trillion less than the 2009 estimate.
Development of Astronomical Unit
The earliest documented example of astronomers calculating the distance between the Earth and the Sun dates back to Classical Antiquity. In the 3rd century BCE, Greek mathematician Aristarchus of Samos imputed that the distance was estimated to be between 18 and 20 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
According to the oldest Chinese mathematical writing, Zhoubi Suanjing the 1st century BCE treatise also estimates the distance between the Earth and Sun. According to the anonymous exposition, the distance is calculated by conducting geometric measures of the length of noontime shadows formed by objects aligned at specific distances. However, the predictions were based on the belief that the Earth was flat.
By the 19th century, ascertainments of the speed of light and the constant deviation of light resulted in the first direct measurement of the Earth-Sun distance in kilometres. By 1903, for the first time, the term “astronomical unit” emerged. Developments in precision have always been a key to developing astronomical understanding. Throughout the twentieth century, measurements became more precise and ever more reliant on accurate observation of the effects described by Einstein’s theory of relativity and upon the analytical tools it used.
Astronomical Unit Modern Usage
The astronomical unit finds great applicability in the measurement of the stellar distance of extraterrestrial objects. It can be used to calculate the heliocentric distance of an asteroid or measure the distance of a planet’s orbiting moon. In the solar system, it finds usage in the development of mathematical and numerical methods for computational purposes. Also, it can be used in general to measure the distance between planetary systems and understand the extent of gaseous clouds around planets. However, an astronomical unit is an inept way of measuring distance when it comes to interstellar objects. For interstellar purposes, it is best to use measures such as light-years and parsec. While fabricating a numerical model of the Solar System, the astronomical unit proffers a relevant scale that minimizes floating-point calculations errors.