Celestial Sphere

Local View
• On earth objects are usually viewed in flat
Euclidean geometry.

• From the earth the stars appear to be fixed on a
sphere that rotates.
– Great distance to objects
– Earth’s rotation
Great Circles
• Any plane through the
center of a sphere
intersects the sphere in a
great circle.
– AXB
– PAQB
• Points are opposite if for
any great circle that passes
through one it passes
through both.
P
Q
A
X
O
B
Spherical Angles
• The angle APX projects
onto the plane of a great
circle AOX.
– Defines angle APX
– PAX right angle

• The distance between two
points is the angle
between the points.
P
Q
A
X
O
B
Triangles
• Three points not on the
same great circle define a
spherical triangle.
– Defines a plane that
excludes the origin

• Each angle is less than
180°, but the sum exceeds
180°.
– Triangle PAX from before
b c
A
a
C
B
Small Circles
• A parallel circles have
centers on the same axis.
– AB and CD
– Arc AP = q
– AS = AO sin(AOS)

• Pick E on AB.
– Great circle PEF
– PE = q
P
Q
A
C
O
B
F
E
S
q
y
D
Small Circle Arc
• Spherical angle y is
defined by APE.
– Same as CPF
– Matches COF

• AS and ES parallel CO
and FO.
– ASE = y
– AE = y sinq
P
Q
A
C
O
B
F
E
S
q
y
D
Polar Coordinates
• Spherical polar
coordinates are a 3-D
vector.
– r, q, y
– Reduce to q, y on unit
sphere


Z
R
X O
S
S
q
y
A
B
Y
y q cos sin  x
y q sin sin  y
q cos  z
Spherical Trigonometry
• Set A at a pole and AB on
a great circle.

b
c
A
a
C
B
  c c r
B
cos , 0 , sin 

A c b c b a cos sin sin cos cos cos  
  b A b A b r
C
cos , sin sin , cos sin 

  1 , 0 , 0 
A
r

c
C
b
B
a
A
sin
sin
sin
sin
sin
sin
 
Latitude
• Orient the sphere of the
earth with N, S poles.

• The equator is the great
circle at 90° from N.

• The latitude is measured
from the equator.
– f = 90° – NX
N
S
X
q
f
E
Longitude
• The prime meridian is at
right angles to the equator.
– Defined at Greenwich
Observatory, NGKS

• Longitude is the angle l =
GNX.
– -180° < l < -180°
N
S
O
X
K
G
l
E
Projection
• Project the earth outward
into space.
– North and south celestial
poles P, Q
– Celestial equator E
• East orientation is defined
by the sun’s position ϒ at
vernal equinox.
– Crosses equator from S to N
– March 21
P
Q
O
X
ϒ
a
E
Declination and Right Ascension
• Declination is the celestial
equivalent of latitude.
– d = 90° – PX

• Right ascension is the
celestial equivalent of
longitude.
– a = ϒPX
P
Q
O
X
ϒ
a
E
d
Heavenly Time
• Right ascension is not measured in degrees.
• Degrees are converted to time.
– 24 hours = 360°
– 1h = 15° 1° = 4m
– 1m = 15' 1' = 4s
– 1s = 15'' 1'' = 1/15 s

Stellar Coordinates
• Stellar coordinates use
right ascension and
declination.
– X(a,d)

• Displacement is measured
as a difference of
coordinates.
– X’(a  da, d  dd)

P
Q
X
ϒ
a
E
X’
Alt-Azimuth
• The alt-azimuth system is
fixed to an observer on
earth.
• Zenith distance is
measured from vertical.
– z = ZX
– Altitude a = 90° - z
• Azimuth is measured west
of north.
– A = PZX
P
Q
O
X
S
Z
N
W
Rising Star

• Stars are visible to an observer when z > 90°.

• Tables of rising and setting objects are computed
for z = 90°.
Hour Angle
• Alt-azimuth moves with
the stars.
• PZ was fixed by the
transformation.
• Hour angle is measured
from zenith and celestial
north.
– HA = ZPX to the west
– PZSQ is the observer’s
meridian
P
Q
O
X
S
Z
N
W
equator
Circumpolar
• Declination remains the
same.
– d = 90° – PX
• The small circle through X
is a parallel of declination.

• A small circle that does
not intersect the horizon
does not set – circumpolar
stars.
P
Q
O
X
S
Z
N
W
equator
Relative Time
• Project points from
Greenwich G and an
observer X onto the
celestial sphere.
– Hour angle at Greenwich
GHA
– Observer hour angle is HA
= GHA + l

• Sidereal time is defined by
the hour angle.
N
S
O
X
K
G
l
E
Sidereal Time
• Sidereal time is defined by the hour angle.
• Moves with the stars
• LST = HA + RA

• A sidereal day is shorter than a solar day.
• 23 h 56 m

Universal Time
• The sidereal and solar time scales depend on the earth’s
rotation.
– Irregular on short time scales
– Slowing on long time scales

• Irregularities can be smoothed to get universal mean sun.

• Universal time is UT = 12 h + GHA (UMS).
– UTC uses leap seconds to coordinate
Dynamical Time

• A dynamical model of time replaced rotation based
systems in 1952.
– Ephemeris time ET
– Defines the second based on the year 1900
– Replaced by TA1 atomic clocks in 1972

• In 1976 this was replaced by Terrestrial Dynamical Time
to account for general relativity.
Atomic Time

• Absolute time measurement is based on the vibrational
period of the hyperfine lines in cesium.

• Absolute time is measured in Julian days beginning at
noon Jan 1, 4713 BC.

• Time is converted to earth-based time like UTC for use in
astronomy.

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