Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/391

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
381
CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

pole. Then as meridians are drawn from pole to pole on the earth, cutting the equator at different points, so imaginary meridians are conceived as drawn from pole to pole on the celestial sphere. Corresponding to parallels of latitude on the earth we have parallels of declination on the celestial sphere. These are parallel to the equator, and become smaller and smaller as we approach either pole. The correspondence of the terrestrial and celestial circles is this:

To latitude on the earth's surface corresponds declination in the heavens.

To longitude on the earth corresponds right ascension in the heavens.

A little study of these facts will show that the zenith of any point on the earth's surface is always in a declination equal to the latitude of the place. For example, for an observer in Philadelphia, in 40° latitude, the parallel of 40° north declination will always pass through his zenith, and a star of that declination will, in the course of its diurnal motion, also pass through his zenith.

So also to an observer on the equator the celestial sphere always spans the visible celestial hemisphere through the east and west points.

In the case of the right ascension, the relation between the terrestrial and celestial spheres is not constant, because of the diurnal motion, which keeps the terrestrial meridians in constant revolution relative to the celestial meridians. Allowing for this motion, however, the system is the same. As we have on the earth's surface a prime meridian passing from pole to pole through the Greenwich Observatory, so in the heavens a prime meridian passes from one celestial pole to the other through the vernal equinox. Then to define the right ascension of any star we imagine a great circle passing from pole to pole through the star, as we imagine one to pass from pole to pole through a city on the earth of which we wish to designate the longitude. The actual angle which this meridian makes with the prime meridian is the right ascension of the star as it is the longitude of the place on the earth's surface.

There is, however, a difference in the unit of angular measurement commonly used for right ascensions in the heavens and longitude on the earth. In astronomical practice, right ascension is very generally expressed by hours, twenty-four of which make a complete circle, corresponding to the apparent revolution of the celestial sphere in twenty-four hours. The reason of this is that astronomers determine right ascension by the time shown by a clock so regulated as to read 0 hrs., 0 min., 0 sec. when the vernal equinox crosses the meridian. The hour hand of this clock makes a revolution through twenty-four hours during the time that the earth makes one revolution on its axis, and thus returns to 0 hrs., 0 min., 0 sec. when the vernal equinox again crosses the