If you're interested in the world of space exploration, you've probably heard people discuss solar mass. While the name sounds self-explanatory enough, understanding the history of this term as well as its unique value in the astronomical world is crucial. As you'll learn, the idea of using solar mass is incredibly practical. Plus, it has quite a fascinating history.
What is Solar Mass?
Solar mass is a standard unit of measurement that's used in astronomy. Simply put, one unit of solar mass is the mass of the sun. Quite fascinatingly, the sun's mass is 333,000 times that of our planet's.
Astronomers use the sun's mass as a way of measuring space objects simply because objects in space are incredibly heavy. To measure a space object using our country's measurement system would be impractical as, of course, nothing that exists on Earth can compare in terms of mass.
How’s Solar Mass Determined?
You may be wondering how the mass of the sun was determined in the first place. Of course, no one is capable of measuring the sun with a typical measuring instrument. Approximately 400 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton created a formula that allowed us to determine the mass of the sun using the laws of gravity.
The speed of our planet's orbit determines the gravitational pull of the sun. Therefore, the formula for determining the sun's mass takes into account the distance between the Earth and the sun as well as the rate of miles per hour at which our planet orbits the sun.
While Sir Isaac Newton created this formula, he was a bit off when it came to the mass of our planet. Of course, this is because of the fact that astronomical studies were limited during his time.
Now, astronomers can measure the Earth's orbit using specialized radar equipment. This guarantees a perfectly accurate measurement that has allowed us to exactly determine solar mass.
Why is Solar Mass So Important?
Solar mass is important for a few reasons. For one thing, it helps astronomers communicate about space objects in a way that the average person can understand. If we were to speak about a certain space object in terms of tons, the number would be so high that it would have less of an impact. However, when an astronomer says that, for instance, a certain black hole has the mass of several suns, it puts things into perspective.
Solar mass also makes it easy for astronomers to compare certain space objects. Because this form of measurement is much more concise, it's simpler to read and remember. Thanks to the discovery of solar mass, astronomers are able to quickly determine the mass of important objects such as black holes, planets, galaxies and stars.
A Crucial Element to Astronomy
As you can see, the concept of solar mass is fairly straightforward. Still, it is one of the most crucial elements to astronomy. Thanks to this unit of measurement, we are able to understand space objects in a clear, simplified way that enriches our relationship to the solar system.