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PARALLAX CONTINUED

The size of the parallax angle p is proportional to the size of the baseline. If the parallax angle is too small to measure because the object is so far away, then the surveyors have to increase their distance from each other Ordinarily, you would use tangent or sine, but if the angle is small enough, you find a very simple relation between the parallax angle p, baseline B, and the distance d:

p = (206,265 B)/d

Trigonometric parallax is used to measure the distances of the nearby stars. The stars are so far away that observing a star from opposite sides of the Earth would produce a parallax angle much, much too small to detect. As large a baseline as possible must be used. The largest one that can be easily used is the orbit of the Earth. In this case the baseline = the distance between the Earth and the Sun---an astronomical unit (AU) or 149.6 million kilometers! A picture of a nearby star is taken against the background of stars from opposite sides of the Earth's orbit (six months apart). The parallax angle p is one-half of the total angular shift.

THE PARSEC
The distances to the stars in astronomical units are huge, so a more convenient unit of distance called a parsec is used (abbreviated with ``pc''). A parsec is the distance of a star that has a parallax of one arc second using a baseline of 1 astronomical unit.
1 parsec = 206,265 astronomical units = 3.26 light years

FYI: The nearest star is about 1.3 parsecs from the solar system. Using a parsec for the distance unit and an arc second for the angle, our simple angle formula above becomes extremely simple for measurements from Earth: p = 1/d

Stellar Motion (Vectors)


The motion of a star relative to the Sun is referred to as its space velocity, and is divided into its radial velocity, toward or away from the Sun, and its tangential velocity, perpendicular to the radial velocity (hence, in the plane of the "sky"), as shown in the diagram below:

The motion of a star, relative to the Sun. Motion toward or away from the Sun is called radial velocity. Motion perpendicular to the direction to the Sun is called tangential velocity. The combination of the two motions is the star's space velocity.

Interstellar absorption
The light emitted from stars gets absorbed by cosmic bodies and gases. The further away a star, the smaller the amount of light that reaches us.

Cepheid variables Cepheid variables are a special type of star with a luminosity which varies on a regular cycle. Around 1908, Henrietta Leavitt discovered that the period of the variability was closely linked to the luminosity of the star. So, if you time the variability of a Cepheid then you can predict its luminosity. And if you know its luminosity and how bright it appears from Earth, then you can calculate the distance. Cepheids are used to measure the distance of galaxies out to about 30,000,000 parsecs (30 Mpc). Cepheids are what Edwin Hubble used to determine the distances of nebulae (ie. galaxies) and derive the Hubble law