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Spherical astronomy

Spherical astronomy or positional

astronomy is the branch of astronomy that
is used to determine the location of
objects on the celestial sphere, as seen at
a particular date, time, and location on
Earth. It relies on the mathematical
methods of spherical geometry and the
measurements of astrometry.
This is the oldest branch of astronomy and
dates back to antiquity. Observations of
celestial objects have been, and continue
to be, important for religious and
astrological purposes, as well as for
timekeeping and navigation. The science
of actually measuring positions of
celestial objects in the sky is known as

The primary elements of spherical

astronomy are coordinate systems and
time. The coordinates of objects on the
sky are listed using the equatorial
coordinate system, which is based on the
projection of Earth's equator onto the
celestial sphere. The position of an object
in this system is given in terms of right
ascension (α) and declination (δ). The
latitude and local time can then be used to
derive the position of the object in the
horizontal coordinate system, consisting
of the altitude and azimuth.

The coordinates of celestial objects such

as stars and galaxies are tabulated in a
star catalog, which gives the position for a
particular year. However, the combined
effects of precession and nutation will
cause the coordinates to change slightly
over time. The effects of these changes in
the movement of Earth are compensated
by the periodic publication of revised

To determine the position of the Sun and

planets, an astronomical ephemeris (a
table of values that gives the positions of
astronomical objects in the sky at a given
time) is used, which can then be converted
into suitable real-world coordinates.

The unaided human eye can detect about

6000 stars, of which about half are below
the horizon at any one time. On modern
star charts, the celestial sphere is divided
into 88 constellations. Every star lies
within a constellation. Constellations are
useful for navigation. Polaris lies close to
due north to an observer in the northern
hemisphere. This star is always at a
position nearly over the North Pole.

Positional phenomena
Planets which are in conjunction form a
line which passes through the center of
the Solar System.
The ecliptic is the plane which contains
the orbit of a planet, usually in reference
to Earth.
Elongation refers to the angle formed by
a planet, with respect to the system's
center and a viewing point.
A quadrature occurs when the
position of a body (moon or planet)
is such that its elongation is 90° or
270°; i.e. the body-earth-sun angle
is 90°
Superior planets have a larger orbit than
Earth's, while the inferior planets
(Mercury and Venus) orbit the Sun
inside Earth's orbit.
A transit may occur when an inferior
planet passes through a point of

Ancient structures associated

with positional astronomy
Chichen Itza
The Medicine Wheel
The Pyramids
The Temple of the Sun


NOVAS, an integrated package of

subroutines for the computation of a wide
variety of common astrometric quantities
and transformations, in Fortran and C,
from the U.S. Naval Observatory.
jNOVAS , is a java wrapper for library
developed and distributed by The United
States Naval Meteorology and
Oceanography Command (NMOC) with
included JPL planetary and lunar
ephemeris DE421 binary file published
by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

See also
Astrological aspects
Celestial coordinate system
Celestial mechanics
Celestial navigation
Diurnal motion
Halley, Edmond
History of Astronomy
Kepler's laws of planetary motion
Retrograde and prograde motion
Sidereal time

Robin M. Green, Spherical Astronomy,
1985, Cambridge University Press,
ISBN 0-521-31779-7
William M. Smart, edited by Robin M.
Green, Textbook on Spherical Astronomy,
1977, Cambridge University Press,
ISBN 0-521-29180-1. (This classic text
has been re-issued)

External links
Course Notes and Tutorials
Professor Vincent's course notes at the
University of St.Andrews
From Stephen Tonkin's Astronomy
From Professor Kirkman's tutorials at
College of Saint Benedict + Saint John's

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Last edited 9 months ago by Magic l…

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