solarSolThe Sun
The heavy elements could most plausibly have been produced by endothermic nuclear reactions during a supernova, or by transmutation through neutron absorption within a massive second-generation star. The Sun is by far the brightest object in the Earth's sky, with an apparent magnitude of −26.74. This is about 13 billion times brighter than the next brightest star, Sirius, which has an apparent magnitude of −1.46. The mean distance of the Sun's center to Earth's center is approximately 1 AU, though the distance varies as Earth moves from perihelion in January to aphelion in July.


Earth's surfaceterrestrialworld
Earth's rotation period relative to the fixed stars, called its stellar day by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), is 86,164.0989 seconds of mean solar time (UT1), or 23 56 4.0989. Earth's rotation period relative to the precessing or moving mean vernal equinox, misnamed its sidereal day, is 86,164.0905 seconds of mean solar time (UT1) (23 56 4.0905). Thus the sidereal day is shorter than the stellar day by about 8.4 ms. The length of the mean solar day in SI seconds is available from the IERS for the periods 1623–2005 and 1962–2005.

Milky Way

Milky Way Galaxygalaxyour galaxy
There are about 208 stars brighter than absolute magnitude 8.5 within a sphere with a radius of 15 pc from the Sun, giving a density of one star per 69 cubic parsecs, or one star per 2,360 cubic light-years (from List of nearest bright stars). On the other hand, there are 64 known stars (of any magnitude, not counting 4 brown dwarfs) within 5 pc of the Sun, giving a density of about one star per 8.2 cubic parsecs, or one per 284 cubic light-years (from List of nearest stars).

Absolute magnitude

Hbolometric magnitudeabsolute magnitude (H)
The luminosity of the star in watts can be calculated as a function of its absolute bolometric magnitude M bol as: using the variables as defined previously. For planets and asteroids a definition of absolute magnitude that is more meaningful for non-stellar objects is used. The absolute magnitude, commonly called H, is defined as the apparent magnitude that the object would have if it were one Astronomical Unit (AU) from both the Sun and the observer, and in conditions of ideal solar opposition (an arrangement that is impossible in practice).

Solar System

outer Solar Systeminner Solar Systemouter planets
The Local Interstellar Cloud is an area of denser cloud in an otherwise sparse region known as the Local Bubble, an hourglass-shaped cavity in the interstellar medium roughly 300 light-years (ly) across. The bubble is suffused with high-temperature plasma, that suggests it is the product of several recent supernovae. There are relatively few stars within ten light-years of the Sun. The closest is the triple star system Alpha Centauri, which is about 4.4 light-years away. Alpha Centauri A and B are a closely tied pair of Sun-like stars, whereas the small red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, orbits the pair at a distance of 0.2 light-year.

Minute and second of arc

masarcsecondarc second
an object of diameter 725.27 km at a distance of one astronomical unit. an object of diameter 45,866,916 km at one light-year. an object of diameter one astronomical unit (149,597,870.7 km) at a distance of one parsec, by definition. Hubble Space Telescope has calculational resolution of 0.05 arcseconds and actual resolution of almost 0.1 arcseconds, which is close to the diffraction limit. crescent Venus measures between 60.2 and 66 seconds of arc. To adjust a 1⁄2 MOA scope 3 MOA down and 1.5 MOA right, the scope needs to be adjusted 3 × 2 = 6 clicks down and 1.5 x 2 = 3 clicks right.

Angular diameter

apparent diameterangular sizeapparent size
an object of diameter 1 cm at a distance of 2.06 km. an object of diameter 725.27 km at a distance of 1 astronomical unit (AU). an object of diameter 45 866 916 km at 1 light-year. an object of diameter 1 AU (149 597 871 km) at a distance of 1 parsec (pc). 360 degrees in a full circle. 60 arc-minutes in one degree. 60 arc-seconds in one arc-minute. Angular diameter distance. Angular resolution. Solid angle. Visual acuity. Visual angle. Visual Angle Illusion. List of stars with resolved images. Small-Angle Formula. Visual Aid to the Apparent Size of the Planets.

International Astronomical Union

IAUWorking Group for Planetary System NomenclatureInternational Astronomical Union (IAU)
List of proper names of stars. Planetary nomenclature. XXVIth General Assembly 2006. XXVIIth General Assembly 2009. XXVIIIth General Assembly 2012. XXIXth General Assembly 2015. XXXth General Assembly 2018.


ArcturiansArcturianAlpha Boo
In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN; which included Arcturus for this star. It is now so entered in the IAU Catalog of Star Names. With an apparent visual magnitude of −0.05, Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere and the fourth-brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius (−1.46 apparent magnitude), Canopus (−0.72) and α Centauri (combined magnitude of −0.27).

Orders of magnitude (length)

mm100 nmGm
Comet of 1910. 9.5 Pm – 63,241.1 AU – One light year, the distance travelled by light in one year. 15 Pm – 1.59 light years – Possible outer radius of Oort cloud. 20 Pm – 2.11 light years – maximum extent of influence of the Sun's gravitational field. 30.9 Pm – 3.26 light years – 1 parsec. 39.9 Pm – 4.22 light years – Distance to Proxima Centauri (nearest star to Sun). 81.3 Pm – 8.59 light years – Distance to Sirius. 110 Pm – 12 light years – Distance to Tau Ceti. 230 Pm – 24 light years – Diameter of the Orion Nebula. 240 Pm – 25 light years – Distance to Vega. 260 Pm – 27 light years – Distance to Chara, a star approximately as bright as our Sun.

61 Cygni

61 Cygni A61 Cyg61 Cyg A
This corresponds to a distance of about 600,000 astronomical units, or about 10.4 light-years. This was the first direct and reliable measurement of the distance to a star other than the Sun. His measurement was published only shortly before similar parallax measurements of Vega by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve and Alpha Centauri by Thomas Henderson that same year. Bessel continued to make additional measurements at Königsberg, publishing a total of four complete observational runs, the last in 1868. The best of these placed the center point at 360.2 ±12.1 mas, made during observations in 1849. This is close to the currently accepted value of 287.18 mas (yielding 11.36 light-years).


Alpha Carinaeα Carinaea first magnitude star
Canopus is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina, and is located near the western edge of the constellation around 310 light-years from the Sun. Its proper name is generally considered to originate from the mythological Canopus, who was a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta. Canopus has the Bayer designation α Carinae, which is Latinised to Alpha Carinae and abbreviated Alpha Car or α Car. It is the second-brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius. Canopus' visual apparent magnitude is −0.74, and it has an absolute magnitude of −5.71. Canopus is an aging bright giant of spectral type A9 or F0, so it is essentially white when seen with the naked eye.


JovianGioveplanet Jupiter
Depending on Jupiter's position with respect to the Earth, it can vary in visual magnitude from as bright as −2.94 at opposition down to −1.66 during conjunction with the Sun. The mean apparent magnitude is −2.20 with a standard deviation of 0.33. The angular diameter of Jupiter likewise varies from 50.1 to 29.8 arc seconds. Favorable oppositions occur when Jupiter is passing through perihelion, an event that occurs once per orbit. Earth overtakes Jupiter every 398.9 days as it orbits the Sun, a duration called the synodic period. As it does so, Jupiter appears to undergo retrograde motion with respect to the background stars.

Magnitude (astronomy)

Two of the main types of magnitudes distinguished by astronomers are: The difference between these concepts can be seen by comparing two stars. Betelgeuse (apparent magnitude 0.5, absolute magnitude −5.8) appears slightly dimmer in the sky than Alpha Centauri (apparent magnitude 0.0, absolute magnitude 4.4) even though it emits thousands of times more light, because Betelgeuse is much farther away.


Beta Orionisβ Ori (Rigel)β Orionis
As such, much of our understanding about their characteristics is based on theoretical stellar evolution models. Although Rigel is often considered the most luminous star within 1,000 light-years of the Sun, its energy output is poorly known. For example, using the Hipparcos distance of 264 pc, the estimated relative luminosity for Rigel is about 120,000 times that of the Sun, but another recently published distance of 360 ± suggests an even higher luminosity of.


During its 4-year run, the positions, parallaxes, 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 (milliarcseconds). Additional catalogues were compiled for the 23,882 double/multiple stars and 11,597 variable stars also analyzed during the Hipparcos mission. Today, the catalogue most often used is USNO-B1.0, an all-sky catalogue that tracks proper motions, positions, magnitudes and other characteristics for over one billion stellar objects.

Eta Carinae

η Carinaeη CarEta Carinae A
Observations at the Cape of Good Hope indicated it peaked in brightness, surpassing Canopus, over March 11 to 14, 1843 before beginning to fade, then brightened to between the brightness of Alpha Centauri and Canopus between March 24 and 28 before fading once again. For much of 1844 the brightness was midway between Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, around magnitude +0.2, before brightening again at the end of the year. At its brightest in 1843 it likely reached an apparent magnitude of −0.8, then −1.0 in 1845. The peaks in 1827, 1838, and 1843 are likely to have occurred at the periastron passage—the point the two stars are closest together—of the binary orbit.

Proxima Centauri

Alpha Centauri Cits host starProxima
Proxima Centauri is a small, low-mass star located 4.244 ly away from the Sun in the southern constellation of Centaurus. Its Latin name means the "nearest [star] of Centaurus". This object was discovered in 1915 by Robert Innes and is the nearest-known star to the Sun. With a quiescent apparent magnitude of 11.13, it is too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Proxima Centauri forms a third member of the Alpha Centauri system, being identified as component Alpha Centauri C, and is 2.18° to the southwest of the Alpha Centauri AB pair. Currently it has a physical separation of about 12950 AU from AB and an orbital period of 550,000 years.

Friedrich Bessel

Friedrich Wilhelm BesselBesselBessel, Friedrich
In 1838 Bessel announced that 61 Cygni had a parallax of 0.314 arcseconds; which, given the diameter of the Earth's orbit, indicated that the star is 10.3 ly away. Given the current measurement of 11.4 ly, Bessel's figure had an error of 9.6%. Nearly at the same time Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve and Thomas Henderson measured the parallaxes of Vega and Alpha Centauri. As well as helping determine the parallax of 61 Cygni, Bessel's precise measurements using a new meridian circle from Adolf Repsold allowed him to notice deviations in the motions of Sirius and Procyon, which he deduced must be caused by the gravitational attraction of unseen companions.

Mercury (planet)

MercuryMercurioplanet Mercury
Mercury's apparent magnitude is calculated to vary between −2.48 (brighter than Sirius) around superior conjunction and +7.25 (below the limit of naked-eye visibility) around inferior conjunction. The mean apparent magnitude is 0.23 while the standard deviation of 1.78 is the largest of any planet. The mean apparent magnitude at superior conjunction is −1.89 while that at inferior conjunction is +5.93. Observation of Mercury is complicated by its proximity to the Sun, as it is lost in the Sun's glare for much of the time. Mercury can be observed for only a brief period during either morning or evening twilight.


luminousbolometric luminosityluminosities
The absolute magnitude is the apparent magnitude at a distance of 10 parsecs, therefore the bolometric absolute magnitude is a logarithmic measure of the bolometric luminosity. The difference in bolometric magnitude between two objects is related to their luminosity ratio according to: where: The zero point of the absolute magnitude scale is actually defined as a fixed luminosity of 3.0128 W.

Proxima Centauri b

Proxima bbPale Red Dot
Sirius lies less than a degree from Betelgeuse in the otherwise unmodified Orion and with a magnitude of −1.2 is a little fainter than from Earth but still the brightest star in the Alpha Centauri sky. Procyon is also displaced into the middle of Gemini, outshining Pollux, whereas both Vega and Altair are shifted northwestward relative to Deneb (which barely moves, due to its great distance), giving the Summer Triangle a more equilateral appearance. From Proxima Centauri b, Alpha Centauri AB would appear like two close bright stars with the combined apparent magnitude of −6.8.

List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs

List of nearest starspassing starsnearest stars
Despite the relative proximity of these 78 objects to Earth, only nine are bright enough in visible light to reach or exceed the dimmest brightness to be visible to the naked eye from Earth, 6.5 apparent magnitude. All of these objects are currently moving in the Local Bubble, a region within the Orion–Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way. Based on results from the Gaia telescope's second data release from April 2018, an estimated 694 stars will possibly approach the Solar System to less than 5 parsecs in the next 15 million years. Of these, 26 have a good probability to come within 1.0 pc and another 7 within 0.5 pc.

Night sky

night skiessky''' of the Earthsky of Earth
The stars of the night sky cannot be counted unaided because they are so numerous and there is no way to track which have been counted and which have not. Further complicating the count, fainter stars may appear and disappear depending on exactly where the observer is looking. The result is an impression of an extraordinarily vast star field. Because stargazing is best done from a dark place away from city lights, dark adaptation is important to achieve and maintain. It takes several minutes for eyes to adjust to the darkness necessary for seeing the most stars, and surroundings on the ground are hard to discern.

Open cluster

open star clusterstar clusteropen clusters
The core is typically about 3–4 light years across, with the corona extending to about 20 light years from the cluster centre. Typical star densities in the centre of a cluster are about 1.5 stars per cubic light year; the stellar density near the Sun is about 0.003 stars per cubic light year. Open clusters are often classified according to a scheme developed by Robert Trumpler in 1930.