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Luminosity in astronomy.

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In astronomy, luminosity is the amount of energy a body radiates per unit time.

Luminosity Astronomy.
Early stars radiate.

The luminosity of stars is measured in two forms: apparent (counting visible light only) and bolometric (total radiant energy); a bolometer is an instrument that measures radiant energy over a wide band by absorption and measurement of heating. When not qualified, luminosity means bolometric luminosity, which is measured in the SI units watts, or in terms of solar luminosities, ; that is, how many times as much energy the object radiates than the Sun, whose luminosity is 3.8461026 W.

Luminosity is an intrinsic constant independent of distance, and is measured as absolute magnitude, corresponding to the apparent luminosity in visible light of a star as seen at the interstellar distance of 10 parsecs, or bolometric magnitude corresponding to bolometric luminosity. In contrast, apparent brightness is related to the distance by an inverse square law. Onto this brightness decrease from increased distance comes an extra linear decrease of brightness for interstellar "extinction" from intervening interstellar dust. Visible brightness is usually measured by apparent magnitude. Both absolute and apparent magnitudes are on an inverse logarithmic scale, where 5 magnitudes increase counterparts a 100:th part decrease in nonlogaritmic luminosity.

By measuring the width of certain absorption lines in the stellar spectrum, it is often possible to assign a certain luminosity class to a star without knowing its distance. Thus a fair measure of its absolute magnitude can be determined without knowing its distance nor the interstellar extinction, and instead the distance and extinction can be determined without measuring it directly through the yearly parallax. Since the parallax is usually too small to be measured for many faraway stars, this is a common method of determining distances.

In measuring star brightnesses, visible luminosity (not total luminosity at all wave lengths), apparent magnitude (visible brightness), and distance are interrelated parameters. If you know two, you can determine the third. Since the sun's luminosity is the standard, comparing these parameters with the sun's apparent magnitude and distance is the easiest way to remember how to convert between them.

Computing between brightness and luminosity

Imagine a point source of light of luminosity L that radiates equally in all directions. A hollow sphere centered on the point would have its entire interior surface illuminated. As the radius increases, the surface area will also increase, and the constant luminosity has more surface area to illuminate, leading to a decrease in observed brightness.


A is the area of the illuminated surface.

For stars and other point sources of light, A = 4r2 so


r is the distance from the observer to the light source.

It has been shown that the luminosity of a star L (assuming the star is a black body, which is a good approximation) is also related to temperature T and radius R of the star by the equation:


is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant 5.67  10-8 Wm-2K-4

Dividing by the luminosity of the sun and cancelling constants, we obtain the relationship

For stars on the main sequence, luminosity is also related to mass:

The magnitude of a star is a logarithmic scale of observed visible brightness. The apparent magnitude is the observed visible brightness from Earth, and the absolute magnitude is the apparent magnitude at a distance of 10 parsecs. Given a visible luminosity (not total luminosity), one can calculate the apparent magnitude of a star from a given distance:


mstar is the apparent magnitude of the star (a pure number)
msun is the apparent magnitude of the sun (also a pure number)
Lstar is the visible luminosity of the star
is the solar visible luminosity
rstar is the distance to the star
rsun is the distance to the sun

Or simplified, given msun = -26.73, distsun = 1.58 10-5 lyr:

mstar = - 2.72 - 2.5 log(Lstar/diststar2)


How bright would a star like the sun be from 4.3 light years away? (The distance to the next closest star system Alpha Centauri)
msun (@4.3lyr) = -2.72 - 2.5 log(1/4.32) = 0.45
0.45 magnitude would be a very bright star, but not quite as bright as Alpha Centauri.

Also you can calculate the luminosity given a distance and apparent magnitude:

Lstar/ = (diststar/distsun)2 10[(msun -mstar) 0.4]
Lstar = 0.0813 diststar2 10(-0.4 mstar)


What is the luminosity of the star Sirius?

Sirius is 8.6 lyr distant, and magnitude -1.47.
LSirius = 0.0813 8.62 10-0.4(-1.47) = 23.3
You can say that Sirius is 23 times brighter than the sun, or it radiates 23 suns.

A bright star with bolometric magnitude -10 has a luminosity of 106 , whereas a dim star with bolometric magnitude +17 has luminosity of 10-5 . Note that absolute magnitude is directly related to luminosity, but apparent magnitude is also a function of distance. Since only apparent magnitude can be measured observationally, an estimate of distance is required to determine the luminosity of an object.

Computing between luminosity and magnitude.

The difference in absolute magnitude is related to the stellar luminosity ratio according to:

which makes by inversion:

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