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The astronomical unit (symbol au or AU) is a unit of length, roughly the distance from the Earth to the Sun. However, that distance varies as the Earth orbits the Sun, from a maximum (aphelion) to a minimum (perihelion) and back again once a year. Originally, each distance was measured through observation, and the astronomical unit was defined as their average, half the sum of the maximum and minimum, making the unit a kind of medium measure for the Earth–Sun distance. It is now defined as exactly 149597870700 meters (about 150 million kilometers, or 93 million miles). The astronomical unit is used primarily as a convenient yardstick for measuring distances within the Solar System or around other stars. However, it is also a fundamental component in the definition of another critical unit of astronomical length, the parsec.


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