Measuring distance by parallax/triangulation
The basic method has been used in mapping for centuries. Suppose we have a remote island some distance off shore. If we first draw out a baseline on the shore and measure itʼs length. We then stand at one end of the baseline, look at a point on the island and measure the angle between our line of sight and the baseline. We do the same thing from the other end of the baseline. We then have a triangle from which we can calculate distances. (It helps to make the calculation easier if one of the angles is 90 degrees).
Tan ϑ = opposite side/adjacent
so Tan 70 = opp/150 metres
so opp = 150 Tan 70 = 412 metres
If we tried to use a baseline on earth then the angle to a very distant star would be very hard to measure accurately. To get a large baseline we take a measurement and then wait six months to take a second measurement. During that time the Earth completes half of its orbit around the Sun and we use that as the baseline.The change of angle is measured against the background shift of very distant stars behind the one which we are measuring.
We measure the change of angle and then half it to get α.
sin α=opp/hyp = 1AU/d
so distance d = 1AU/sin α
The astronomical distance “The Parsec” is based on this method.
The distance to the star is one parsec if the angle alpha (α) is one second, of one minute of one degree (that is 1/3600 of one degree). A parsec is equivalent to a little over 3 light years
Other pages of notes and video on astronomy which may be useful are:
Units of distance notes and video Life cycle of stars Geostationary and polar satellites notes and video Big Bang theory and evidence Development of the Universe after the Big Bang Real and apparent magnitude Hubble's Law and measuring distance notes and video The age of the universe notes and video Using Hertzsprung Russell diagrams notes and video Cepheid variable stars Type 1A supernova