Computing the Distance Between Two Stars
In this case of computing the distance between two stars, we are treating the stars as simple points in 3D space. So, finding the distance between them, becomes a simple matter of 3D trigonometry.
In astronomy, we generally give stars 3D spherical coordinates. They are the standard right ascension, declination and distance coordinates of the stars. On Earth we use longitude and latitude, in astronomy, we use right ascension and declination respectively as coordinates. These standard stellar coordinates are cataloged for many stars (Epoch J2000 is used here) and they can be used for 3D computations to the extent of their accuracy.
The 3rd coordinate, the distance, is often symbolized by R because it represents the radius vector (radius of a sphere), the line directed between the eye and star. The coordinates are envisioned as a grid drawn on the surface of an infinitely large sphere with our eye at the center and the star at distance R from the eye with apparent longitude (right ascension) and latitude (declination) coordinates as viewed projected against the sphere.
From the stellar spherical coordinates (α,δ,R), we compute the corresponding rectangular (X,Y,Z) coordinates from which the linear spatial distance (D) between two stars can then be computed.
For any given star, let:
α (alpha) = Right Ascension (0 to 360 degrees) = Celestial longitude
δ (delta) = Declination (0 to ±90 degrees) = Celestial latitude
R = Distance in light years
Given the spherical (α,δ,R) coordinates of a star, the corresponding
rectangular (X,Y,Z) coordinates may be computed from:
Given the spherical (α,δ,R) coordinates for two stars, distinguished
by subscripts, to compute the distance between the stars, we first
compute their corresponding rectangular (X,Y,Z) coordinates:
For the first star:
For the second star:
We now take the differences between the computed (XYZ) coordinates:
Finally, the distance between the two stars
in 3D XYZspace may be computed from:
NUMERICAL EXAMPLE:
In this example we will compute the distance between the bright stars Sirius (= 1st Star) and Vega (= 2nd Star) and compute how bright each star appears to be from the perspective of the other.
This is the computational data pertaining to the stars used in the example:
J2000.0 CATALOG DATA FOR SIRIUS AND VEGA AS VIEWED FROM EARTH/SUN
    
1ST STAR RIGHT ASCENSION DECLINATION DIST LY VIS MAG
Sirius 06h 45m 08.9s 16° 42' 58" 8.6 1.46
101.2870833 deg 16.7161111 deg
    
2ND STAR RIGHT ASCENSION DECLINATION DIST LY VIS MAG
Vega 18h 36m 56.3s +38° 47' 01" 25.3 +0.03
279.2345833 deg +38.7836111 deg
Performing the distance computations for the given data (Angles expressed in degrees):
DISTANCE BETWEEN THE STARS SIRIUS AND VEGA
Rectangular Coordinates of Sirius:
x1 = 8.6 * Cos(101.2870833) * Cos(16.7161111) = 1.6121048578
y1 = 8.6 * Sin(101.2870833) * Cos(16.7161111) = 8.0772729746
z1 = 8.6 * Sin(16.7161111) = 2.4736166278
Rectangular Coordinates of Vega:
x2 = 25.3 * Cos(279.2345833) * Cos(38.7836111) = 3.1648925282
y2 = 25.3 * Sin(279.2345833) * Cos(38.7836111) = 19.4661817544
z2 = 25.3 * Sin(+38.7836111) = 15.8474358553
Rectangular Coordinate Differences:
dx = (x2  x1) = 4.7769973860
dy = (y2  y1) = 27.5434547290
zx = (z2  z1) = 18.3210524831
The distance (D) between the stars Sirius and Vega may
then be found from:
D = SqRoot(dx*dx + dy*dy + dz*dz) = 33.4233835290 LY
So,
D = 33.42 light years
APPARENT BRIGHTNESS
Once we know the distance (D) between two stars, we may then determine how bright each star would appear to be (ideally) as viewed from the other's perspective, as opposed to their apparent brightness (or magnitudes) as viewed from Earth.
In this case, the general stellar magnitude vs. distance
formula may be expressed as:
Where:
m = Visual magnitude of star as viewed from distance d
M = Visual magnitude of star as viewed from distance D
d and m respectively refer to the distance to and visual magnitude of one of the stars as viewed from Earth.
D is the distance between the two stars previously computed above.
M is the visual magnitude of one of the stars at distance D.
The known values are (d, m, D)
from which we compute M for each star.
NUMERICAL EXAMPLE:
From Sirius (Star 2 as viewed from Star 1):
m = +0.03 = Magnitude of Vega as viewed from Earth
d = 25.3 = Distance to Vega from Earth in light years
D = 33.423 = Distance between Sirius and Vega in light years
M = Magnitude of Vega as viewed from Sirius
M = 5*Log10(33.4/25.3) + 0.03
= 0.603129728185 + 0.03 = 0.633129728185
So, from Sirius, the magnitude of Vega would be +0.63
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From Vega (Star 1 as viewed from Star 2):
m = 1.46 = Magnitude of Sirius as viewed from Earth
d = 8.6 = Distance to Sirius from Earth in light years
D = 33.423 = Distance between Sirius and Vega in light years
M = Magnitude of Sirius as viewed from Vega
M = 5*Log10(33.4/8.6) + (1.46)
= 2.94624007784  1.46 = 1.48624007784
So, from Vega, the magnitude of Sirius would be +1.49
Jay Tanner  2015
