Time & Motion

Four Galilean moons shadows

Can all four Galilean moons cast their shadows on Jupiter ’s disk at the same time? No. A triple shadow transit is as good as it gets (S&T: July 2004, page 94). The motions of the three inner moons are gravitationally locked so that, as English astronomer George B. Airy wrote more than a century…

Take a walk on the wild side

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 the ecliptic; less elsewhere). That’s…

How many daylight hours do you get in a year?

No matter where in the world you live, do you get the same number of daylight hours over the course of a year? No. The equator actually gets fewer hours of daylight than most other latitudes. Any given place would be in daylight exactly 50 percent of a year’s time if Earth moved in a…

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 the ecliptic plane (the plane…

When is the earliest sunrise of the year?

The earliest sunrise of the year doesn't always occur on June 20th (the solstice), which has the longest day. Why? The earliest sunrise actually depends partly on latitude. In 2004, for latitude 40° north, it was June 13th. For 50° north, the earliest sunrise was on June 16th. At 30° south, where the seasons are…

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 exact coincidence will (or did)…

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 a particular geodetic datum, such…