Light year

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The light year (symbol: ly) is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year. Although one might think that one year is defined as the time for the Earth to complete one revolution of its orbit of the Sun, there are still several definitions depending on the frame of reference. According to the recommendations of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the Julian year, which has a length of 365.25 days or 31,557,600 seconds, shall be used.

The light year is a unit of distance larger than an astronomical unit (AU). It is commonly used to measure interstellar distances, where other units of measure are too small. It is rarely used in interplanetary distances, because it is too large to be useful.

Also used are the light second, light minute, light hour, light day, light week and light month. As opposed to the light year, whose value more or less depends on the definition of year, the values of all these units are defined exactly.

Numerical value

Comparison to other Units

  • 1 parsec = 3.2616 ly
  • 1 AU = 15.8×10-6 ly
  • 1 ly = 9,460,730,472,580.800 km = 9.4607304 * 1012 km
  • 1 ly = 5,878,625,373,183.607 mi[2] = 5.878625 * 1015 mi
  • 1 ly = 31,039,141,970,409,448.818 ft[3] = 31.039142 * 1015 ft
  • 1 ly = 10,346,380,656,803,149.606 yd[4] = 10.346381 * 1015 yd

Distances in light-years


  1. Review of Particle Physics Particle Data Group: W.-M. Yao et al., J. Phys. G 33, 1 (2006).
  2. 1 mi = 1609.344 m
  3. 1 ft = 0.3048 m
  4. 1 yd = 0.9144 m