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Absolute magnitude

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This article is about the brightness of stars. For the science fiction magazine, see Absolute
Magnitude (magazine).
Absolute magnitude is the measure of intrinsic brightness of a celestial object. It is the
hypothetical apparent magnitude of an object at a standard distance of exactly 10.0 parsecs
(32.6 light years) from the observer, assuming no astronomical extinction of starlight. This
places the objects on a common basis and allows the true energy output of astronomical
objects to be compared without the distortion introduced by distance. As with all
astronomical magnitudes, the absolute magnitude can be specified for different wavelength
intervals; for stars the most commonly quoted absolute magnitude is the absolute visual
magnitude, which uses only the visual (V) band of the spectrum (UBV system). Also
commonly used is the absolute bolometric magnitude, which is the total luminosity
expressed in magnitude units that takes into account energy radiated at all wavelengths,
whether visible or not.
The absolute magnitude is similar to visual magnitude (correctly called apparent
magnitude) where a difference of 5 in absolute magnitude corresponds to a factor of 100 in
brightness, whereas for apparent magnitude a difference of one in magnitude corresponds
to a factor of two in apparent brightness. In terms of absolute magnitude, the brighter the
object the smaller its magnitude and so on into the negative range with increasing
brightness. Similarly for apparent magnitude, but the range devised by the Greeks that used
the naked eye assigned magnitude one for the brightest stars, and magnitude six for the
dimmest. For absolute magnitude, a difference of 1.0 in magnitude corresponds to a ratio of
2.512 100.4 of absolute brightness. The Milky Way, for example, has an absolute
magnitude of about 20.5, so a quasar with an absolute magnitude of 25.5 is 100 times
brighter than the Milky Way. If this particular quasar and the Milky Way could be seen side
by side at the same distance of one parsec and the Milky Way's stars reduced to a single
point, the quasar would be 5 magnitudes (or 100 times) brighter than the Milky Way.
Similarly, Canopus has an absolute visual magnitude of about 5.5, whereas Ross 248 has
an absolute visual magnitude of +14.8, for a difference of about 20 magnitudes, i.e.,
Canopus would be seen as about 20 magnitudes brighter; stated another way, Canopus
emits more than 100 million (108) times more visual power than Ross 248.

Contents
[hide]

1 Stars and galaxies (M)


o 1.1 Computation
1.1.1 Examples
o 1.2 Apparent magnitude
o 1.3 Bolometric magnitude
2 Solar System bodies (H)

2.1 Apparent magnitude


2.1.1 Example
3 Meteors
4 See also
5 References
6 External links
o

Stars and galaxies (M)[edit]


In stellar and galactic astronomy, the standard distance is 10 parsecs (about 32.616 light
years, 308.57 petameters or 308.57 trillion kilometres). A star at 10 parsecs has a parallax
of 0.1" (100 milli arc seconds). Galaxies (and other extended objects) are much larger than
10 parsecs, their light is radiated over an extended patch of sky, and their overall brightness
cannot be directly observed from relatively short distances, but the same convention is
used. A galaxy's magnitude is defined by measuring all the light radiated over the entire
object, treating that integrated brightness as the brightness of a single point-like or star-like
source, and computing the magnitude of that point-like source as it would appear if
observed at the standard 10 parsecs distance. Consequently, the absolute magnitude of any
object equals the apparent magnitude it would have if it were 10 parsecs away.
The measurement of absolute magnitude is made with an instrument called a bolometer.
When using an absolute magnitude, one must specify the type of electromagnetic radiation
being measured. When referring to total energy output, the proper term is bolometric
magnitude. The bolometric magnitude usually is computed from the visual magnitude plus
a bolometric correction,
. This correction is needed because very hot
stars radiate mostly ultraviolet radiation, whereas very cool stars radiate mostly infrared
radiation (see Planck's law).
Many stars visible to the naked eye have such a low absolute magnitude that they would
appear bright enough to cast shadows if they were at 10 parsecs from the Earth: Rigel
(7.0), Deneb (7.2), Naos (6.0), and Betelgeuse (5.6). For comparison, Sirius has an
absolute magnitude of 1.4, which is brighter than the Sun, whose absolute visual magnitude
is 4.83 (it actually serves as a reference point). The Sun's absolute bolometric magnitude is
set arbitrarily, usually at 4.75.[1][2] Absolute magnitudes of stars generally range from 10 to
+17. The absolute magnitudes of galaxies can be much lower (brighter). For example, the
giant elliptical galaxy M87 has an absolute magnitude of 22 (i.e. as bright as about 60,000
stars of magnitude 10).

Computation[edit]
For a negligible extinction, one can compute the absolute magnitude
its apparent magnitude and luminosity distance
:

of an object given

where
is the star's actual distance in parsecs (1 parsec is 206,265 astronomical units,
approximately 3.2616 light-years). For very large distances, the cosmological redshift
complicates the relation between absolute and apparent magnitude, because the radiation
observed was shifted into the red range of the spectrum. To compare the magnitudes of very
distant objects with those of local objects, a k correction might have to be applied to the
magnitudes of the distant objects.
For nearby astronomical objects (such as stars in the Milky Way) luminosity distance DL is
almost identical to the real distance to the object, because spacetime within the Milky Way
is almost Euclidean. For much more distant objects the Euclidean approximation is not
valid, and General Relativity must be taken into account when calculating the luminosity
distance of an object.
In the Euclidean approximation for nearby objects, the absolute magnitude
of a star can
be calculated from its apparent magnitude and the star's parallax in arcseconds:

You can also compute the absolute magnitude


and distance modulus :

of an object given its apparent magnitude

Examples[edit]
Rigel has a visual magnitude of

and distance about 860 light-years

Vega has a parallax of 0.129", and an apparent magnitude of +0.03

Alpha Centauri A has a parallax of 0.742" and an apparent magnitude of 0.01

The Black Eye Galaxy has a visual magnitude of mV=+9.36 and a distance modulus of
31.06.

Apparent magnitude[edit]

Main article: Apparent magnitude


Given the absolute magnitude
, for objects within the Milky Way you can also calculate
the apparent magnitude from any distance (in parsecs):

For objects at very great distances (outside the Milky Way) the luminosity distance DL must
be used instead of d (in parsecs).
Given the absolute magnitude
parallax :

, you can also compute apparent magnitude

Also calculating absolute magnitude

from distance modulus

from its

Bolometric magnitude[edit]
Bolometric magnitude corresponds to luminosity, expressed in magnitude units; that is,
after taking into account all electromagnetic wavelengths, including those unobserved due
to instrumental pass-band, the Earth's atmospheric absorption, and extinction by interstellar
dust. In the case of stars with few observations, it usually must be computed assuming an
effective temperature.
Classically, the difference in bolometric magnitude is related to the luminosity ratio
according to:

which makes by inversion:

where
is the Sun's (sol) luminosity (bolometric luminosity)
is the star's luminosity (bolometric luminosity)
is the bolometric magnitude of the Sun
is the bolometric magnitude of the star.

In August 2015, the International Astronomical Union passed Resolution B2[3] defining the
zero points of the absolute and apparent bolometric magnitude scales in SI units for power
(watts) and irradiance (
), respectively. Although bolometric magnitudes had been
used by astronomers for many decades, there had been systematic differences in the
absolute magnitude-luminosity scales presented in various astronomical references, and no
international standardization. This led to systematic differences in bolometric corrections
scales, which when combined with incorrect assumed absolute bolometric magnitudes for
the Sun could lead to systematic errors in estimated stellar luminosities (and stellar
properties calculated which rely on stellar luminosity, like radii, ages, etc.).
IAU 2015 Resolution B2 defines an absolute bolometric magnitude scale where
corresponds to luminosity 3.01281028 watts, with the zero point luminosity
set such that the Sun (with nominal luminosity 3.8281026 watts) corresponds to absolute
bolometric magnitude
. Placing a radiation source (e.g. star) at the
standard distance of 10 [parsecs]], it follows that the zero point of the apparent bolometric
magnitude scale
corresponds to irradiance = 2.518021002108
.
Using the IAU 2015 scale, the nominal total solar irradiance ("Solar constant") measured at
1 astronomical unit (
the Sun of

) corresponds to an apparent bolometric magnitude of


.

Following IAU 2015 Resolution B2 system, the relation between a star's absolute
bolometric magnitude and its luminosity is no longer directly tied to the Sun's (variable)
luminosity:

where
is the star's luminosity (bolometric luminosity) in watts
is the zero point luminosity 3.01281028 watts
is the bolometric magnitude of the star
The new IAU absolute magnitude scale permanently disconnects the scale from the variable
Sun. However, on this SI power scale, the nominal solar luminosity corresponds closely to
= 4.74, a value that was commonly adopted by astronomers before the 2015 IAU
resolution.
The luminosity of the star in watts can be calculated as a function of its absolute bolometric
magnitude
as:

using the variables as defined previously.

Solar System bodies (H)[edit]


For planets and asteroids a definition of absolute magnitude that is more meaningful for
nonstellar objects is used.
In this case, the absolute magnitude (H) is defined as the apparent magnitude that the object
would have if it were one astronomical unit (AU) from both the Sun and the observer.
Because the object is illuminated by the Sun, absolute magnitude is a function of phase
angle and this relationship is referred to as the phase curve.
To convert a stellar or galactic absolute magnitude into a planetary one, subtract 31.57. A
comet's nuclear magnitude (M2) is a different scale and can not be used for a size
comparison with an asteroid's (H) magnitude.

Apparent magnitude[edit]
The absolute magnitude can be used to help calculate the apparent magnitude of a body
under different conditions.

where is 1 AU, is the phase angle, the angle between the Sunbody and bodyobserver
lines. By the law of cosines, we have:

is the phase integral (integration of reflected light; a number in the 0 to 1 range).


Example: Ideal diffuse reflecting sphere. A reasonable first approximation for planetary
bodies

A full-phase diffuse sphere reflects 2/3 as much light as a diffuse disc of the same diameter.
Distances:

is the distance between the observer and the body

is the distance between the Sun and the body


is the distance between the observer and the Sun

Note: because Solar System bodies are never perfect diffuse reflectors, astronomers use
empirically derived relationships to predict apparent magnitudes when accuracy is required.
[4]

Example[edit]
Moon:

= +0.25
=
= 1 AU
= 384.5 Mm = 2.57 mAU

How bright is the Moon from Earth?

Full moon:
o
o

= 0, (

(Actual 12.7) A full Moon reflects 30% more light at full phase than a
perfect diffuse reflector predicts.

Quarter moon:
o
o

2/3)

= 90,

(if diffuse reflector)

(Actually approximately 11.0) The diffuse reflector formula does for


smaller phases.

Meteors[edit]
For a meteor, the standard distance for measurement of magnitudes is at an altitude of
100 km (62 mi) at the observer's zenith.[5][6]

See also[edit]

Photographic magnitude
HertzsprungRussell diagram relates absolute magnitude or luminosity versus
spectral color or surface temperature.
Jansky radio astronomer's preferred unit linear in power/unit area
Surface brightness the magnitude for extended objects
List of most luminous stars

References[edit]
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Jump up ^ Cayrel de Strobel, G. (1996), "Stars resembling the Sun", Astronomy


and Astrophysics Review 7 (3): 243288, Bibcode:1996A&ARv...7..243C,
doi:10.1007/s001590050006
Jump up ^ Casagrande, L.; Portinari, L.; Flynn, C. (November 2006), "Accurate
fundamental parameters for lower main-sequence stars", MNRAS (Abstract) 373 (1): 13
44, Bibcode:2006astro.ph..8504C, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2006.10999.x
Jump up ^ IAU XXIX General Assembly Draft Resolutions Announced, retrieved
2015-07-08
Jump up ^ Planetary magnitudes Calculator update, retrieved 2013-05-16
Jump up ^ "Absolute magnitude of meteors", Glossary, International Meteor
Organization, retrieved 2013-05-16
Jump up ^ "Absolute magnitude of Solar System bodies", Solar System Dynamics
Glossary, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, retrieved 2013-05-16

External links[edit]

Reference zero-magnitude fluxes


International Astronomical Union
Absolute Magnitude of a Star calculator
The Magnitude system
About stellar magnitudes
Obtain the magnitude of any star SIMBAD
Converting magnitude of minor planets to diameter
Another table for converting asteroid magnitude to estimated diameter
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