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Spherical astronomy I

Spherical astronomy I

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Published by: vosmera on May 29, 2011
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Spherical astronomy I
May 30, 2011
1 Math Introduction
I’m going to start with a small bit of trigonometry, both the trigonometry inthe euclidean plane and spherical trigonometry. I’m sure you know enoughFigure 1: Normal triangleabout basic formulas for sines and cosines, therefore I’m not going to botheryou with them. I just want to mention two important theorems for both typesof triangle, being
law of sines
and
law of cosines
. You might be familiar withthe euclidean version of them
a
sin
α
=
b
sin
β
=
c
sin
γ , c
2
=
a
2
+
b
2
2
ab
cos
γ.
Generally, if the spherical triangle is small enough, you can use those formulasfor a normal triangle as well. However, if you want to be precise, you have touse their following modification (see the figure with sph. triangle below)sin
a
sin
α
=sin
b
sin
β
=sin
c
sin
γ ,
cos
c
= cos
a
cos
b
+ sin
a
sin
b
cos
γ.
And this is all the math you need to know.
2 Coordinate systems
2.1 Horizontal coordinate system (H)
It uses the plane of local horizon as the fundamental plane. The pole in the upperhemisphere is called zenith, the opposite one’s nadir. The first coordinate is the1
 
Figure 2: Spherical trinagle
altitude
, denoted
h
. It is the angle measured between the fundamental plane(horizon) and the object. Alternatively, one can use so called zenith distance
z
= 90
h
, i.e. the angle measured between the zenith and the object. Thesecond coordinate is
azimuth
A
. Nowadays it is regarded as an angle measuredbetween local meridian (the great circle going thorugh the northern point of thehorizon and zenith) and the great circle going through the zenith and the object,measured from the north to the east. Not very long time ago, it was measuredfrom the south to the west. Since it is still used in all of the literature, note thatin the following text and in my problems,
the azimuth will be measuredfrom the south to the west
. Basically, it is no problem to switch betweenthese two definitions as it is equivalent to
A
A
+180. On the picture, azimuthis red, altitude is green.
2.2 Equatorial coordinate system (Q)
It uses the plane of the celestial equator as the fundamental plane. This planemakes an angle 90
φ
with the plane of local horizon (i.e. the fundamentalplane of horizontal coordinates), where
φ
is the geographical latitude. The firstcoordinate is
declination
δ
- it’s the angle measured between the plane of celestial equator and the object. The fundamental direction is taken to be thatof the vernal equinox point. The second coordinate is the
right-ascension
α
- it’s the angle which makes the great circle going through the northerncelestial pole and vernal equinox point with the great circle going through thenorthern celestial pole and the object, measured positively to the east. See the2
 
Figure 3: Horizontal coordinate systempicture. You can see that equatorial coordinates of a star are approx. constantover relatively long time periods (let say years, tens of years). Basically theyare constant as long as the effects of precession, abberation, paralax or propermotion are not significant for the problem. Alternatively, one can use so called
hour angle
t
as the second coordinate. However, this coordinate varies withthe period one sidereal day. It is the angle between the local meridian and thegreat circle determined by the northern celestial pole and the object. Let usdefine the hour angle of the vernal equinox point to be the
local sidereal time
Θ. Then we can easily relate the hour angle of an object with the right ascensionas Θ =
t
+
α
(recall the definition of 
α
and draw the picture - it’s trivial!).
2.3 Ecliptical coordinate system (E)
This coordinate system uses the plane of the ecliptics as its fundamental plane.The fundamental direction is again the direction towards the vernal equinoxpoint. The latitudinal coordinate is the
ecliptic latitude
β
and it is measuredpositively to the north (angle between the object the plane of ecliptics). Thelongitudinal coordinate is the
ecliptic longitude
λ
- the angle between thegreat circle going through the ecliptic poles and the vernal equinox point and thegraet circle going through the ecliptic poles and the object, measured positivelyto the east. The plane of the ecliptic makes with the plane of the celestialequator the angle
ε
23
.
5
and the line of their intersection is determined byboth equinox points.
2.4 Galactic coordinate system (G)
It uses the galactic plane as the fundamental plane. The longitudinal coordinateis the
galactic longitude
l
- the angle which makes the great circle goingthrough the galactic poles and the galactic center with the great circle goingthrough the galactic poles and the object. The latitudinal coordinate is the3

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