Celestial sphere

Celestial sphere

celestial equator.]

In astronomy and navigation, the celestial sphere is an imaginary rotating sphere of "gigantic radius", concentric and coaxial with the Earth. All objects in the sky can be thought of as lying upon the sphere. Projected from their corresponding geographic equivalents are the celestial equator and the celestial poles. The celestial sphere projection is a very practical tool for positional astronomy.

The celestial sphere can be used geocentrically and topocentrically. The former means that it is centred upon an imaginary observer in the centre of the Earth, and no parallax effects need to be taken into account. In the latter case it is centred upon an observer on the surface of the Earth and then horizontal parallax cannot always be ignored; especially not for the Moon.

In the Aristotelic and Ptolemaic models, the celestial sphere was imagined as a physical reality rather than a geometrical projection (see Celestial spheres).

The celestial sphere is divided by projecting the equator into space. This divides the sphere into the north celestial hemisphere and the south celestial hemisphere. Likewise, one can locate the Celestial Tropic of Cancer, Celestial Tropic of Capricorn, North Celestial Pole, and South Celestial Pole. The directions toward various objects in the sky can be quantified by constructing a celestial coordinate system.

As the Earth rotates from west to east around its axis once every 23 hours 56 minutes, the celestial sphere and all objects on it appear to rotate from east to west around the celestial poles in the same time. This is the diurnal motion. Therefore stars will rise in the east, culminate on the north-south line (meridian) and set in the west, (unless a star is circumpolar). On the next night a particular star will rise again, but with our normal clocks running a 24 hour 0 minutes cycle, it will do so 4 minutes earlier. By the following night the difference will be 8 minutes, and so forth with every following night (or day).

The reason for this apparent misadjustment of our clocks is that the Sun is not standing still on the celestial sphere, as the stars do, but moves about 1° per day eastwards over a great circle known as the ecliptic (which is 360° or a full circle in one year, the annual motion of the Sun). As an angle of 1° corresponds to 4 minutes in time (360° = 24 hours), we need therefore 4 extra minutes of diurnal motion to see the Sun back on (for example) the meridian again, making the duration of one rotation just 24 hours exactly (on the average, ignoring small seasonal variations, see equation of time)

Normal clocks therefore indicate solar time. Astronomers studying the movements of stars may want clocks indicating sidereal time, going around once in 23h56m (solar time units).

A celestial sphere can also refer to a physical model of the celestial sphere. Also known as a star globe, this sort of celestial sphere will indicate which constellations are visible at a given time and place.

See also

* Armillary sphere
* Celestial coordinate system
* Celestial equator
* Celestial horizon
* Celestial pole
* Celestial spheres
* Conformal geometry
* Equinox
* Geocentric universe
* North Star
* Pole Star
* Prograde and retrograde motion
* Setting circles
* Solstice
* South Star
* Spherical Earth
* Zodiac

External links

* [http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/skychart/# SkyandTelescope.com SkyChart]
* [http://astroclub.tau.ac.il/skymaps/monthly/ Monthly skymaps for every location on Earth]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • celestial sphere — n. an imaginary sphere of infinite extent on which all celestial objects appear to lie: the observer is always at its center …   English World dictionary

  • celestial sphere — An imaginary sphere of infinite radius, centered at the center of the earth, on which the apparent motion of celestial bodies takes place. Because all stars are so far from an earthbound observer that they can be located solely by their direction …   Aviation dictionary

  • celestial sphere — dangaus sfera statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. celestial sphere vok. Himmelskugel, f; Himmelssphäre, f rus. небесная сфера, f; небосвод, m pranc. sphère céleste, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • celestial sphere — dangaus sfera statusas T sritis Gynyba apibrėžtis Įsivaizduojama neriboto spindulio sfera, koncentriška su Žemės rutuliu, į kurią projektuojami visi dangaus kūnai, išskyrus Žemę. atitikmenys: angl. celestial sphere pranc. sphère céleste …   NATO terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • celestial sphere — the imaginary spherical shell formed by the sky, usually represented as an infinite sphere, the center of which is a given observer s position. [1875 80] * * * Apparent surface of the heavens, on which the stars seem to be fixed. For the purpose… …   Universalium

  • celestial sphere — noun the apparent surface of the imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected • Syn: ↑sphere, ↑empyrean, ↑firmament, ↑heavens, ↑vault of heaven, ↑welkin • Derivationally related forms: ↑firmamental …   Useful english dictionary

  • celestial sphere — An imaginary sphere of infinite radius concentric with the Earth, on which all celestial bodies except the Earth are imagined to be projected …   Military dictionary

  • celestial sphere — noun Date: 1829 an imaginary sphere of infinite radius against which the celestial bodies appear to be projected and of which the apparent dome of the visible sky forms half …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • celestial sphere — noun An abstract sphere of infinite radius which serves as the imaginary backdrop for celestial objects, and of which the visible sky is one hemisphere. Syn: empyrean, firmament …   Wiktionary

  • celestial sphere — noun an imaginary sphere of which the observer is the centre and on which all celestial objects are considered to lie …   English new terms dictionary

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