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The history of astrometry, the branch of astronomy dealing with the positions of celestial objects, is a lengthy and complex chronicle, having its origins in the earliest records of astronomical observations more than two thousand years ago, and extending to the high accuracy observations being made from space today. Improved star positions progressively opened up and advanced fundamental fields of scientific enquiry, including our understanding of the scale of the solar system, the details of the Earth's motion through space, and the comprehension and acceptance of Newtonianism. They also proved crucial to the practical task of maritime navigation. Over the past 400 years, during which positional accuracy has improved roughly logarithmically with time, the distances to the nearest stars were triangulated, making use of the extended measurement baseline given by the Earth's orbit around the Sun. This led to quantifying the extravagantly vast scale of the Universe, to a determination of the physical properties of stars, and to the resulting characterisation of the structure, dynamics and origin of our Galaxy. After a period in the middle years of the twentieth century in which accuracy improvements were greatly hampered by the perturbing effects of the Earth's atmosphere, ultra-high accuracies of star positions from space platforms have led to a renewed advance in this fundamental science over the past few years.
Published: 16 October 2012

Astro-ph preprint submitted on 30 September 2011.

The Hipparcos satellite was launched in 1989. It was the first, and remains to date the only, attempt at performing large-scale astrometric measurements from space. Hipparcos marked a fundamentally new approach to the field of astrometry, revolutionising our knowledge of the positions, distances, and space motions of the stars in the solar neighbourhood. In this retrospective, I look back at the processes which led to the mission's acceptance, provide a short summary of the underlying measurement principles and the experiment's scientific achievements, and a conclude with a brief summary of its principal legacy - the Gaia mission.

Published as: "EAS Tycho Brahe prize lecture 2011", The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review, Volume 19, Issue 1, December 2011, Article 45.

Published: 01 October 2011
(Book in the series "Astronomers' Universe")

From prehistoric times, mankind has looked up at the night sky, and puzzled at the changing positions of the stars. How far away they are is a question that has confounded scientists for centuries. Over the last few hundred years, many scientific careers – and considerable resources – have been devoted to measuring their positions and motions with ever increasing accuracy. And in the last two decades of the 20th century, the European Space Agency developed and launched the Hipparcos satellite, around which this account revolves, to carry out these exacting measurements from space.

What has prompted these remarkable developments? Why have governments been persuaded to fund them? What are scientists learning from astronomy's equivalent of the Human Genome Project? This book traces the subject's history, explains why such enormous efforts are considered worthwhile, and interweaves these with a first-hand insight into the Hipparcos project, and how big science is conducted at an international level. The involvement of amateur astronomers, and the Hipparcos contributions to climate research, 'death stars' passing close to the Sun, and the search for extra-solar planets and even intelligent life itself, are some of the surprising facets of this unusual space mission.

Table of Contents
Prologue - Hipparcos Launch
1. Our Place in the Cosmos
2. Why Star Positions?
3. Early History
4. Developments 1850-1980
5. The Push to Space
6. From Concept to Launch
7. Disaster Unfolds
8. Mission Recovery
9. Science in the Making
10. The Finishing Touches
11. Our Galaxy
12. Inside the Stars
13. Our Solar System and Habitability
14. The Future
Stereo Views

Published: 01 January 2010

The Hipparcos satellite, developed and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1989, was the first space mission dedicated to astrometry - the accurate measurement of positions, distances, and proper motions of stars. Amongst the key achievements of its measurements are refining the cosmic distance scale, characterising the large-scale kinematic motions in the Solar neighbourhood, providing precise luminosities for stellar modelling, and confirming Einstein's prediction of the effect of gravity on starlight. This authoritative account of the Hipparcos contributions over the last decade is an outstanding reference for astronomers, astrophysicists and cosmologists. It reviews the applications of the data in different areas, describing the subject and the state-of-the-art before Hipparcos, and summarising all major contributions to the topic made by Hipparcos. It contains a detailed overview of the Hipparcos and Tycho Catalogues, their annexes and their updates. Each chapter ends with comprehensive references to relevant literature.

Table of Contents

1. The Hipparcos and Tycho catalogues;
2. Derived catalogues and applications;
3. Double and multiple stars;
4. Photometry and variability;
5. Luminosity calibration and distance scale;
6. Open clusters, groups and associations;
7. Stellar structure and evolution;
8. Specific stellar types and the ISM;
9. Structure of the Galaxy;
10. Solar System and exo-planets;
Published: 01 December 2008
The new reduction of the Hipparcos data presents a very significant improvement in the overall reliability of the astrometric catalogue derived from this mission. Improvements by up to a factor 4 in the accuracies for in particular brighter stars have been obtained. This has been achieved mainly through careful study of the satellite dynamics, and incorporating results from these studies in the attitude modelling. Data correlations, caused by attitude-modelling errors in the original catalogue, have all but disappeared. This book provides overviews of the new reduction as well as on the use of the Hipparcos data in a variety of astrophysical implementations. A range of new results, like cluster distances and luminosity calibrations, is presented. The Hipparcos data provide a unique opportunity for the study of satellite dynamics. The orbit covered a wide range of altitudes, showing in detail the different torques acting on the satellite. One part of the book details these studies and their impact on the new reduction. It furthermore presents an extensive summary on a wide range of spacecraft and payload calibrations, which provide a detailed record of the conditions under which these unique Hipparcos data have been obtained.
Published: 28 September 2007
It is now over 40 years since the gaseous disc of our galaxy was discovered to be warped from radio observations of neutral hydrogen [1]. Subsequently the warp has been detected in the distribution of galactic dust [2], molecular clouds [3], and luminous stars [4,5]. Roughly half of all spiral galaxies have similarly warped discs, which suggests that warps are common and long-lived phenomenon. However, there is still no consensus as to what induces galactic discs to become warped: intergalactic winds, tidal interactions with satellites, magnetic pressure and massive dark halos have all been proposed as causative agents. Here we use data from the Hipparcos satllite [6] to probe the Milky Way's warp.
Published: 03 April 1998
We use absolute trigonometric parallaxes from the Hipparcos Catalogue to determine individual distances to members of the Hyades cluster, from which the 3-dimensional structure of the cluster can be derived. Inertially-referenced proper motions are used to rediscuss distance determinations based on convergent-point analyses. A combination of parallaxes and proper motions from Hipparcos, and radial velocities from ground-based observations, are used to determine the position and velocity components of candidate members with respect to the cluster centre, providing new information on cluster membership: 13 new candidate members within 20 pc of the cluster centre have been identified. Farther from the cluster centre there is a gradual merging between certain cluster members and field stars, both spatially and kinematically.
Published: 01 March 1998
We present the COS B/EGRET 1997 ephemeris for the rotation of the Geminga pulsar. This ephemeris is derived from high-energy gamma -ray observations that span 24 yr. The recently obtained accurate position and proper motion are assumed. A cubic ephemeris predicts the rotational phase of Geminga with errors smaller than 50 milliperiods for all existing high-energy gamma -ray observations that span a 24.2 yr timing baseline. The braking index obtained is 17 +/- 1. Further observation is required to ascertain whether this high value truly reflects the rotational energy loss mechanism, or whether it is a manifestation of timing noise. The ephemeris parameters are sufficiently constrained so that timing noise will be the limitation on forward extrapolation. If Geminga continues to rotate without a glitch, as it has for at least 23 yr, we expect this ephemeris to continue to describe the phase, with an error of less than 100 milliperiods, until 2008. Statistically significant timing residuals are detected in the EGRET data that depart from the cubic ephemeris at a level of 30 milliperiods. Although this could simply be an additional manifestation of timing noise, the EGRET timing residuals appear to have a sinusoidal modulation that is consistent with a planet of mass 1.7/sin i MSun orbiting Geminga at a radius of 3.3 AU.
Published: 01 February 1998
Accuracy in the absolute position in the sky is one of the limiting factors for pulsar timing, and timing parameters have a direct impact on the understanding of the physics of Isolated Neutron Stars (INS). We report here on a high-accuracy measurement of the optical position of Geminga (mv=25.5), the only known radio-quiet INS. The procedure combines the Hipparcos and Tycho catalogues, ground-based astrometric data,and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Wide Field Planetary Camera (WFPC2) images, to yield Geminga's absolute position to within ~ 40 mas (per coordinate). Such a positional accuracy, unprecedented for the optical position of a pulsar or an object this faint, is needed to combine in phase gamma -ray photons collected over more than 20 years, i.e. over 2.5 billions of star' revolutions. Although quite a difficult task, this is the only way to improve our knowledge of the timing parameters of this radio silent INS. Based on Observation with the ESA Hipparcos satellite.
Published: 05 January 1998
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