Astrometry

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Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that relates to precise measurements and explanations of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies. Although once thought of as an esoteric field with little useful application for the future,[citation needed] the information obtained by astrometric measurements is now very important in contemporary research into the kinematics and physical origin of our Solar System and our Galaxy, the Milky Way.

Contents

History

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 the earth’s precession. In doing so, he also developed the brightness scale still in use today.[1] Hipparchus compiled a catalogue with at least 850 stars and their positions.[2] Hipparchus's successor, Ptolemy, included a catalogue of 1,022 stars in his work the Almagest, giving their location, coordinates, and brightness.[3]

In the 10th century, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi carried out observations on the stars and described their positions, magnitudes and star color, and gave drawings for each constellation, in his Book of Fixed Stars. 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 later in Simon Newcomb's investigations on the motion of the moon, while his other observations inspired Laplace's Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn.[clarification needed][4] 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 approximately 20 minutes of arc.[5]

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