The typical distance in between the Earth and the sun is an expensive unit.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Earth orbits the sun at an typical of 92,955,807 mile (149,597,870 kilometers). The street from planet to the sunlight is likewise called an huge unit, or AU, i m sorry is offered to measure ranges throughout the solar system.

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Related: How big is Earth? Related: What"s the speed of Earth roughly the sun?

The an obstacle of elliptical orbits

The AU is the median distance indigenous the earth to the sun. Earth makes a complete change around the sunlight every 365.25 job — one year.


However, Earth"s orbit is not a perfect circle; it is shaped an ext like an oval, or an ellipse. End the food of a year, planet moves periodically closer come the sun and also sometimes farther away from the sun, according to NASA.

Earth"s closest approach to the sun, called perihelion, come in early January and is around 91 million mile (146 million km), simply shy that 1 AU. The farthest from the sun earth gets is called aphelion. It come in at an early stage July and also is about 94.5 million miles (152 million km), just over 1 AU.


The old calculations

Historically, the first person to measure up the street to the sun was the Greek astronomer Aristarchus roughly the year 250 B.C. He offered the phases that the moon to measure the sizes and also distances the the sun and also moon.

During a fifty percent moon, the three celestial body should form a appropriate angle. By measure up the angle at Earth between the sun and also moon, he identified the sunlight was 19 time as far from the earth as the moon, and thus 19 times together big. In fact, the sunlight is around 400 times bigger than the moon.

"Aristarchus" measure was more than likely off due to the fact that first, the is hard to determine the exact centers of the sun and the moon and also second, it is hard to know exactly when the moon is half full," follow to Cornell University"s astronomy website.

Although imprecise, Aristarchus detailed a basic understanding of the sizes and also distances the the 3 bodies, i m sorry led him come conclude the the planet goes roughly the sun, around 1,700 years prior to Nicolaus Copernicus suggest his heliocentric design of the solar system.

In 1653, astronomer Christiaan Huygens calculate the distance from earth to the sun. He offered the phases of Venus to find the angles in a Venus-Earth-sun triangle. For example, when Venus appears half illuminated by the sun, the three bodies form a right triangle native Earth"s perspective.

Guessing (correctly, by chance) the size of Venus, Huygens was able to identify the distance from Venus to Earth, and knowing that distance, to add the angle made through the triangle, he had the ability to measure the distance to the sun. However, since Huygens" method was partially guesswork and also not totally scientifically grounded, he generally doesn"t obtain the credit.


In 1672, Giovanni Cassini offered a an approach involving parallax, or angular difference, to uncover the distance to Mars and at the same time figured out the street to the sun. He sent out a colleague, Jean Richer, come French Guiana while he continued to be in Paris. They took measurements of the place of Mars loved one to lift stars, and also triangulated those dimensions with the well-known distance in between Paris and also French Guiana. When they had actually the street to Mars, lock could additionally calculate the distance to the sun. Since his methods were much more scientific, he usually gets the credit.

"Expressing distances in the astronomical unit enabled astronomers to overcome the an obstacle of measuring distances in some physical unit," astronomer Nicole Capitaine that Paris college told gendergeek.org. "Such a exercise was beneficial for plenty of years, since astronomers were no able to make distance dimensions in the solar mechanism as precisely as they might measure angles."

A new definition

With the development of gendergeek.orgcraft and radar, an ext precise methods emerged for do a straight measure of the distance between the Earth and also the sun. The an interpretation of AU had been "the radius of an unperturbed circular Newtonian orbit around the sun of a particle having infinitesimal mass, moving with a median motion that 0.01720209895 radians every day (known as the Gaussian constant)."

Along with making things unnecessarily an overwhelming for astronomy professors, that an interpretation actually didn"t jibe with general relativity. Making use of the old definition, the worth of AU would readjust depending on one observer"s place in the solar system. If one observer on Jupiter used the old meaning to calculate the distance in between the Earth and also the sun, the measure would differ from one make on planet by about 1,000 meter (3,280 feet).

Moreover, the Gaussian consistent depends on the massive of the sun, and also because the sun loses mass as it radiates energy, the worth of AU was transforming along v it.

The International expensive Union voted in august 2012 to readjust the an interpretation of the huge unit come a level old number: 149,597,870,700 meters. The measure is based on the rate of light, a solved distance that has nothing to do with the sun"s mass. A meter is characterized as the street traveled by light in a vacuum in 1 / 299,792,458 that a second.

"The new meaning is much easier than the old one," claimed astronomer Sergei Klioner the the technological University the Dresden in Germany. Both Klioner and also Capitaine were both component of the International huge Union team that operated to refine the definition.

Across the solar system


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Artists calculation of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. (Image credit: NASA)

The sun is at the love of the solar system. All of the bodies in the solar system — planets, asteroids, comets, etc. — revolve approximately it at assorted distances.

Mercury, the world closest to the sun, gets as close together 29 million mile (47 million km) in that is elliptical orbit, when objects in the Oort Cloud, the solar system"s icy shell, gendergeek.org thought come lie as much as 9.3 sunshine miles (15 trillion km).

Everything else drops in between. Jupiter, for example, is 5.2 AU from the sun. Neptune is 30.07 AU from the sun.

The street to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is around 268,770 AU, according to NASA. However, come measure longer distances, astronomers usage light-years, or the street that irradiate travels in a solitary Earth-year, i beg your pardon is equal to 63,239 AU. Therefore Proxima Centauri is around 4.25 light-years away.

Updated august 2021 by gendergeek.org senior writer Meghan Bartels.

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