What Is an Astronomical Unit and How Is the Astronomical Unit Used To Measure Distances In Space?

The astronomical unit (AU) measures the relatively short distances within our solar system.

One AU is the mean distance from Earth to the Sun, about 93 million miles.

We can say that Pluto’s average distance from the sun is 40 AUs rather than saying it is 3.72 billion miles.

The units of light-years and parsecs take care of the even greater distances beyond the border of our solar system.

In the 2nd century CE, Ptolemy estimated the mean distance of the sun as 1,210 times the Earth radius.

Ptolemy determined this value by measuring the Moon’s parallax.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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