Astronomical year numbering

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Astronomical year numbering is based on AD/CE year numbering, but follows normal decimal integer numbering more strictly. Thus, it has a year 0, the years before that are designated with negative numbers and the years after that are designated with positive numbers.[1] Astronomers use the Julian calendar for years before 1582, including this year 0, and the Gregorian calendar for years after 1582 as exemplified by Jacques Cassini (1740),[2] Simon Newcomb (1898)[3] and Fred Espenak (2007).[4]

The prefix AD and the suffixes CE, BC or BCE (Common Era, Before Christ or Before Common Era) are dropped.[1] The year 1 BC/BCE is numbered 0, the year 2 BC is numbered −1, and in general the year n BC/BCE is numbered "−(n − 1)"[1] (a negative number equal to 1 − n). The numbers of AD/CE years are not changed and are written with either no sign or a positive sign; thus in general n AD/CE is simply n or +n.[1] For normal calculation a number zero is often needed, here most notably when calculating the number of years in a period that spans the epoch; the end years need only be subtracted from each other.

The system is so named due to its use in astronomy. Few other disciplines outside history deal with the time before year 1, exceptions being dendrochronology, archaeology and geology, the latter two of which use 'years before the present'. Although the absolute numerical values of astronomical and historical years only differ by one before year 1, this difference is critical when calculating astronomical events like eclipses or planetary conjunctions to determine when historical events which mention them occurred.


Year zero usage

In his Rudolphine Tables (1627), Johannes Kepler used a prototype of year zero which he labeled Christi (Christ) between years labeled Ante Christum (Before Christ) and Post Christum (After Christ) on the mean motion tables for the Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury.[5] Then in 1702 the French astronomer Philippe de la Hire used a year he labeled Christum 0 at the end of years labeled ante Christum (BC), and immediately before years labeled post Christum (AD) on the mean motion pages in his Tabulæ Astronomicæ, thus adding the designation 0 to Kepler's Christi.[6] Finally, in 1740 the French astronomer Jacques Cassini (Cassini II), who is traditionally credited with the invention of year zero,[7][8][9] completed the transition in his Tables astronomiques, simply labeling this year 0, which he placed at the end of Julian years labeled avant Jesus-Christ (before Jesus Christ or BC), and immediately before Julian years labeled après Jesus-Christ (after Jesus Christ or AD).[2]

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