Planck E PressCenter Articles

How to Calculate the Distance to Stars

Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Date published: 2024-01-24
Date modified: 2024-01-24
Reading time: 00:01:13

Author: Patrizia Tomasi-Bensik

How to Calculate the Distance to Stars

“Regardless of one's point of view, it's quite easy to see that

Darwinism is not in the same league as the hard sciences.”

William A. Dembski


I lose myself.

A lot.  Always.  I get lost in ways that cause embarrassment.  And when I notice that mocking laugh in the observer of my total inability to coordinate the cardinal points (or follow a map), I ask, "Do you know how to calculate the temperature of the stars?"

It is final.  There is no quicker change of attitude.

Temperature is very difficult, but I can explain how we calculate the distance of stars.

Everyone knows that the size of an object decreases with distance.  We also know that the speed at which we move affects our perception of the speed we observe in objects, both moving and stationary.  Yes, that's what the general theory of relativity says.

Well then.  As the distance increases, the object itself and its speed appear smaller to us.  To calculate the longitude of the moon, we measure its position relative to us and ask a friend who lives far away to do the same.  Knowing these two sides of the "triangle" (our measurement to the Moon and that of our distant friend), we can take the difference between these two points and say that the Moon is 384 thousand kilometers from the Earth.

This calculation, called parallax, allows us to determine the relative distance of the Earth from the planets and stars of our solar system; but the nearest of the stars is too far away for us to use this method.

To know how far away a star is, we use the diameter of the Earth's orbit as the base of our triangle.  So, for example, we look at Alpha Centauri today and in six months.  We will notice a small difference between the observations made at opposite points in the Earth's orbit.  The parallax of our neighboring star is less than one second of a degree.  Using trigonometry, we find that the distance between us and Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years.

And that is it.  If distance is not so simple, knowing how to calculate the temperature of stars puts an end to any inferiority complex!

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