The celestial sphere is an imaginary sphere of infinite radius with the earth as its center. ELEMENTS OF THE CELESTIAL SPHERE Celestial poles. The extension of the earth’s poles. Celestial equator or Equinoctial. Formed by projecting the plane of the earth’s equator to the celestial sphere. Celestial meridians. These are semi-great circles which terminate at the celestial poles, cutting the equinoctial in a right angle in the manner of terrestrial meridians. They are sometimes referred to as Hour circles. Zenith. The point on the celestial sphere vertically overhead of an observer. Nadir. The point on the celestial sphere vertically below the observer, or 180’ from the zenith.

Declination is the angular distance N or S of the Celestial Equator and is measured along the hour circle from 0’ at the Celestial Equator through 90’ at the Celestial Poles. Polar distance is an angular distance from a celestial pole, or the arc of an hour circle between the celestial pole and a point on the celestial sphere. Local Hour Angle is the arc of the celestial equator between the upper branch of the local meridian and the hour circle through a point on the celestial sphere, measured westward from the local celestial meridian, through 360’. Greenwich hour angle is the angular distance west of the Greenwich meridian.

Meridian angle is the angular distance east or west of the local meridian, through 180’.

Prime Vertical. The vertical circle through the E and W points of the horizon and perpendicular to the principal vertical circle. Altitude is an angular distance above the horizon and is measured along a vertical circle, from 0’ at the horizon through 90’ at the zenith. Zenith distance is an angular distance from the zenith, or an arc of a vertical circle between the zenith and a point on the celestial sphere. Azimuth is an arc of the horizon measured from North clockwise through 360’. Azimuth angle is an arc of the horizon measured either clockwise or counter clockwise through 360’ starting at the North point of the horizon in North Latitude and the South point of the horizon is South Latitude. Amplitude is the angular distance of a celestial body North or South of the Prime Vertical circle.



The ecliptic is the apparent path that the Sun traces out in the sky during the year, appearing to move eastwards on an imaginary spherical surface, the celestial sphere, relative to the (almost) fixed stars. More accurately, it is the intersection of the celestial sphere with the ecliptic plane, which is the geometric plane containing the mean orbit of the Earth around the Sun. (The ecliptic plane should be distinguished from the invariable plane of the solar system, which is perpendicular to the vector sum of the angular momenta of all planetary orbital planes, to which Jupiter is the main contributor. The present ecliptic plane is inclined to the invariable plane by about 1.5°.) The name ecliptic arises because eclipses occur when the full or new Moon is very close to this path of the Sun.

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