Physics basic units

The SI System of Measurement

Fundamental units

These are basic units upon which most units depends.


Time is defined as the duration between two events. In the international system of measurement (S.I.) the second (s) is the basic unit of time and it is defined as the time it takes a cesium (Cs) atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. The Earth revolves around its own axis in 86400 seconds with respect to the Sun; this is known as 1 day, and the 86400th part of one day is known as a second.


In the international system of measurement (S.I.) the metre (m) (‘meter’ in the US) is the basic unit of length and is defined as the distance travelled by light in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 second. This definition establishes that the speed of light in a vacuum is precisely 299,792,458 metres per second.


In the international system of measurement (S.I.) the kilogram (kg) is the basic unit of mass and is defined as the mass of a specific platinum-iridium alloy cylinder kept at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in Sèvres, France. A duplicate of the Sèvres cylinder is kept at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland.


In the international system of measurement (S.I.) the ampere (A) is the basic measure of electrical current. It is defined as the constant current which, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of infinite length, of negligible circular cross-section, and placed 1 metre (m) apart in vacuum, would produce between these conductors a force equal to 2×10-7newton (N) per metre of length.

Unit of Thermodynamic Temperature

The kelvin (K), unit of thermodynamic temperature, is the fraction 1/273.16 of the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water.

Unit of Amount of Substance

1. The mole (mol) is the amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilogram of carbon 12.
2. When the mole is used, the elementary entities must be specified and may be atoms, molecules, ions, electrons, other particles, or specified groups of such particles.

Luminous Intensity

The candela (cd) is the luminous intensity, in a given direction, of a source that emits monochromatic radiation of frequency 540 x 1012 hertz and that has a radiant intensity in that direction of 1/683 watt per steradian. (A steradian (sr) is the SI unit of solid angle, equal to the angle at the centre of a sphere subtended by a part of the surface equal in area to the square of the radius.)

Derived Units

These are units obtained by combining two or more fundamental units.


The SI unit of charge is the coulomb (C). It is equal to ampere times second: 

{displaystyle 1 mathrm {C} =1 mathrm {A} cdot mathrm {s} }


The SI unit for velocity is in m/s or metres per second.


The SI unit of force is the newton (

{displaystyle N}

), named after Sir Isaac Newton. It is equal to 

{displaystyle 1 mathrm {kg} cdot mathrm {m} /mathrm {s} ^{2}}



The SI unit of energy is the joule (J). The joule has base units of kg·m²/s² = N·m. A joule is defined as the work done or energy required to exert a force of one newton for a distance of one metre. See Wikipedia article.


The SI unit of pressure is the pascal (Pa). The pascal has base units of 

{displaystyle mathrm {N} /mathrm {m} ^{2}}


{displaystyle mathrm {kg} /mathrm {m} cdot mathrm {s} ^{2}}

. See Wikipedia article.


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SymbolYZEPTGMkhda dcmµnpfazy
1000n1000810007100061000510004100031000210001     1000-11000-21000-31000-41000-51000-61000-71000-8

Astronomical Measurements

The SI units are not always convenient to use, even with the larger (and smaller) prefixes. For astronomy, the following units are prevalent:

Julian Year

The Julian year is defined by the IAU as exactly 365.25 days, a day being exactly 60*60*24 = 86,400 SI seconds. The Julian year is therefore equal to 31,557,600 seconds.

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