Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo

Thought Questions

AstronomyThought Questions

Thought Questions


The meter was redefined as a reference to Earth, then to krypton, and finally to the speed of light. Why do you think the reference point for a meter continued to change?


While a meter is the fundamental unit of length, most distances traveled by humans are measured in miles or kilometers. Why do you think this is?


Most distances in the Galaxy are measured in light-years instead of meters. Why do you think this is the case?


The AU is defined as the average distance between Earth and the Sun, not the distance between Earth and the Sun. Why does this need to be the case?


What would be the advantage of making parallax measurements from Pluto rather than from Earth? Would there be a disadvantage?


Parallaxes are measured in fractions of an arcsecond. One arcsecond equals 1/60 arcmin; an arcminute is, in turn, 1/60th of a degree (°). To get some idea of how big 1° is, go outside at night and find the Big Dipper. The two pointer stars at the ends of the bowl are 5.5° apart. The two stars across the top of the bowl are 10° apart. (Ten degrees is also about the width of your fist when held at arm’s length and projected against the sky.) Mizar, the second star from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle, appears double. The fainter star, Alcor, is about 12 arcmin from Mizar. For comparison, the diameter of the full moon is about 30 arcmin. The belt of Orion is about 3° long. Keeping all this in mind, why did it take until 1838 to make parallax measurements for even the nearest stars?


For centuries, astronomers wondered whether comets were true celestial objects, like the planets and stars, or a phenomenon that occurred in the atmosphere of Earth. Describe an experiment to determine which of these two possibilities is correct.


The Sun is much closer to Earth than are the nearest stars, yet it is not possible to measure accurately the diurnal parallax of the Sun relative to the stars by measuring its position relative to background objects in the sky directly. Explain why.


Parallaxes of stars are sometimes measured relative to the positions of galaxies or distant objects called quasars. Why is this a good technique?


Estimating the luminosity class of an M star is much more important than measuring it for an O star if you are determining the distance to that star. Why is that the case?


Figure 19.9 is the light curve for the prototype cepheid variable Delta Cephei. How does the luminosity of this star compare with that of the Sun?


Which of the following can you determine about a star without knowing its distance, and which can you not determine: radial velocity, temperature, apparent brightness, or luminosity? Explain.


A G2 star has a luminosity 100 times that of the Sun. What kind of star is it? How does its radius compare with that of the Sun?


A star has a temperature of 10,000 K and a luminosity of 10–2 LSun. What kind of star is it?


What is the advantage of measuring a parallax distance to a star as compared to our other distance measuring methods?


What is the disadvantage of the parallax method, especially for studying distant parts of the Galaxy?


Luhman 16 and WISE 0720 are brown dwarfs, also known as failed stars, and are some of the new closest neighbors to Earth, but were only discovered in the last decade. Why do you think they took so long to be discovered?


Most stars close to the Sun are red dwarfs. What does this tell us about the average star formation event in our Galaxy?


Why would it be easier to measure the characteristics of intrinsically less luminous cepheids than more luminous ones?


When Henrietta Leavitt discovered the period-luminosity relationship, she used cepheid stars that were all located in the Small Magellanic Cloud. Why did she need to use stars in another galaxy and not cepheids located in the Milky Way?

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 28, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.