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Astronomy 2e

Figuring for Yourself

Astronomy 2eFiguring for Yourself

Figuring for Yourself


A radar astronomer who is new at the job claims she beamed radio waves to Jupiter and received an echo exactly 48 min later. Should you believe her? Why or why not?


The New Horizons probe flew past Pluto in July 2015. At the time, Pluto was about 32 AU from Earth. How long did it take for communication from the probe to reach Earth, given that the speed of light in km/hr is 1.08×1091.08×109?


Estimate the maximum and minimum time it takes a radar signal to make the round trip between Earth and Venus, which has a semimajor axis of 0.72 AU.


The Apollo program (not the lunar missions with astronauts) being conducted at the Apache Point Observatory uses a 3.5-m telescope to direct lasers at retro-reflectors left on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. If the Moon is 384,472 km away, approximately how long do the operators need to wait to see the laser light return to Earth?


In 1974, the Arecibo Radio telescope in Puerto Rico was used to transmit a signal to M13, a star cluster about 25,000 light-years away. How long will it take the message to reach M13, and how far has the message travelled so far (in light-years)?


Demonstrate that 1 pc equals 3.09 × 1013 km and that it also equals 3.26 light-years. Show your calculations.


The best parallaxes obtained with Hipparcos have an accuracy of 0.001 arcsec. If you want to measure the distance to a star with an accuracy of 10%, its parallax must be 10 times larger than the typical error. How far away can you obtain a distance that is accurate to 10% with Hipparcos data? The disk of our Galaxy is 100,000 light-years in diameter. What fraction of the diameter of the Galaxy’s disk is the distance for which we can measure accurate parallaxes?


Astronomers are always making comparisons between measurements in astronomy and something that might be more familiar. For example, the Hipparcos web pages tell us that the measurement accuracy of 0.001 arcsec is equivalent to the angle made by a golf ball viewed from across the Atlantic Ocean, or to the angle made by the height of a person on the Moon as viewed from Earth, or to the length of growth of a human hair in 10 sec as seen from 10 meters away. Use the ideas in Example 19.2 to verify one of the first two comparisons.


Gaia will have greatly improved precision over the measurements of Hipparcos. The average uncertainty for most Gaia parallaxes will be about 50 microarcsec, or 0.00005 arcsec. How many times better than Hipparcos (see Exercise 19.32) is this precision?


Using the same techniques as used in Exercise 19.32, how far away can Gaia be used to measure distances with an uncertainty of 10%? What fraction of the Galactic disk does this correspond to?


The human eye is capable of an angular resolution of about one arcminute, and the average distance between eyes is approximately 2 in. If you blinked and saw something move about one arcmin across, how far away from you is it? (Hint: You can use the setup in Example 19.2 as a guide.)


How much better is the resolution of the Gaia spacecraft compared to the human eye (which can resolve about 1 arcmin)?


The most recently discovered system close to Earth is a pair of brown dwarfs known as Luhman 16. It has a distance of 6.5 light-years. How many parsecs is this?


What would the parallax of Luhman 16 (see Exercise 19.38) be as measured from Earth?


The New Horizons probe that passed by Pluto during July 2015 is one of the fastest spacecraft ever assembled. It was moving at about 14 km/s when it went by Pluto. If it maintained this speed, how long would it take New Horizons to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.25 light-years away? (Note: It isn’t headed in that direction, but you can pretend that it is.)


What physical properties are different for an M giant with a luminosity of 1000 LSun and an M dwarf with a luminosity of 0.5 LSun? What physical properties are the same?

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