Astronomy Questions & Answers

Can Venus ever be far enough from the Sun to appear east of the meridian?

During the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice, when the Sun is farthest south and sets in the southwest, can Venus ever be far enough from the Sun to appear east of the meridian? Yes, but only when viewed from near-arctic latitudes. In late 2008, for example, Venus is the Evening Star…

Hobby-based Q&A

When will (or did) the galactic equator cross the ecliptic very close to the latter's northern and southern extremes?

As a teenager, when examining an equinox-1950 star atlas, I noticed that the galactic equator crossed the ecliptic very close to the latter’s northern and southern extremes (that is, the solstices at right ascension 6h and 18h). On equinox-2000 charts they are even closer. I’d love to know when the…

Take a walk on the wild side

Hobby-based Q&A

How do you convert celestial coordinates for equinox 1950.0 to 2000.0?

I use Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, which gives objects’ celestial coordinates for equinox 1950.0. How do I convert these to 2000.0, the current standard? First off, the difference isn’t great. Fifty years of precession change an object’s right ascension and declination by a total of 0.7° at most (if it’s near…

Hobby-based Q&A

Why doesn't a GPS receiver read longitude 0° 00' 00" while standing on the prime meridian at the Greenwich Observatory?

Why didn’t my GPS receiver read longitude 0° 00' 00" when I visited Greenwich Observatory and stood on the prime meridian? The NAVSTAR satellites of the Global Positioning System can provide your location to an accuracy of 3 meters (10 feet) or better. The coordinates you get are based on…

Astronomy Questions & Answers

What defines a planet's north pole?

Uranus is often said to have a retrograde rotation with its axis tilted 98°. Why don’t we say it has a direct spin with the axis tilted 82°? Since 1982, the International Astronomical Union has defined the north pole of a planet to be the pole that lies north of…

Plate tectonics explained

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Did that earthquake off the coast of Sumatra alter Earth's rotation and tilt?

Did the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that triggered the horrific tsunami on December 26, 2004, alter Earth’s rotation and tilt, as some news stories suggest? The Sumatra earthquake released as much energy as 475 megatons of TNT. That’s some 23,000 times the energy released by the atomic bomb…

sigma 3053

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Where can I find double star SAO numbers for my Go To telescope?

I want to observe double stars, but my Go To telescope needs their SAO numbers. Where can I get them? SAO numbers come from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Star Catalog (1966). They aren’t normally used by double-star enthusiasts, who prefer special notations such as ADS 1630, S748, and Krueger 60.…