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September 15 2012

The astronomical unit gets fixed


Without fanfare, astronomers have redefined one of the most important distances in the Solar System. The astronomical unit (au) — the rough distance from the Earth to the Sun — has been transformed from a confusing calculation into a single number. The new standard, adopted in August by unanimous vote at the International Astronomical Union's meeting in Beijing, China, is now 149,597,870,700 metres — no more, no less.

The effect on our planet’s inhabitants will be limited. The Earth will continue to twirl around the Sun, and in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn will soon arrive.

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