I have seen other similar questions and someone mentioned radar measurements made in the 1960's. Who did that and when and where? I am not interested in ancient measurements. Only the currently accepted measurement, And when it was made.

  • $\begingroup$ -1 someone mentioned... You ought to provide details (eg a link) to what you have read. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2018 at 1:34

1 Answer 1


There never has been a direct measurement of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The best we can do is measure the distance between the Earth and the other planets, and from that infer the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Today's estimates aren't based on radar pings from Venus. That is so last millennium! Early 1960s, to be precise. That said, estimates of the astronomical unit made possible by those 1960s radar measurements of the distance between the Earth and Venus were much more precise than were prior estimates based on parallax, reducing the uncertainty in the astronomical unit from 16000 km to less than 1000 km.

In the 50+ years since that time, space agencies have sent spacecraft to all of the other seven planets in the solar system (other than the Earth, of course), plus Pluto, plus some asteroids, plus some orbiting the Sun. The telemetry from those spacecraft, augmented by very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), have made those measurements from the 1960s look rather imprecise. The latest work was in 2009 by Pitjeva and Standish, who stated the uncertainty in the astronomical unit as being 3 meters. No work has been done on measuring the AU since then because the astronomical unit is now a defined quantity, exactly 149597870700 meters (the value stated by Pitjeva and Standish).

  • $\begingroup$ What were the results of the 1960s and today? :) $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2017 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Do you know the name of the paper in which Pitjeva and Standish published their measurement of the AU? $\endgroup$
    – Will T
    Jan 14, 2017 at 10:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks - great answer. It is amazing how many websites claim that the AU has been measured directly with radar. I wonder how can the Sun's distance be inferred when we don't know it's size? $\endgroup$
    – Will T
    Jan 14, 2017 at 10:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WilliamClifford-Banks : Pitjeva, E. V., and E. M. Standish. "Proposals for the masses of the three largest asteroids, the Moon-Earth mass ratio and the Astronomical Unit." Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy 103.4 (2009): 365-372. $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2017 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ NASA/SOHO says they do bounce radar off the sun: soho.nascom.nasa.gov/classroom/notsofaq.html though I find this suspect: it doesn't have a hard surface, it's a plasma, the density is low, it's hot: it emits radio waves. $\endgroup$
    – JEB
    Mar 24, 2018 at 22:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.