Friday, May 22, 2009

Diurnal Motion

Diurnal motion is an astronomical term referring to the apparent daily motion of stars around the Earth, or more precisely around the two celestial poles. It is caused by the Earth's rotation on its axis, so every star apparently moves on a circle, that is called the diurnal circle. The time for one complete rotation is 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds (1 sidereal day).

Direction of the motion in the Northern hemisphere:
looking to the north, below the North Star: left-right, West-East
looking to the north, above the North Star: right-left, East-West
looking to the south: left-right, East-West

Northern circumpolar stars move counterclockwise around the North Star.

At the North Pole, North, East and West are not applicable, the motion is simply left-right, or looking vertically upward, counterclockwise around the zenith.

For the southern hemisphere, interchange North / South and left / right, and replace North Star by southern celestial pole. The circumpolar stars move clockwise around it. East / West are not interchanged.

At the equator both celestial poles are at the horizon and motion is counterclockwise (to the left) around the North Star and clockwise (to the right) around the southern celestial pole. All motion is from East to West, except for the two stationary points.

The daily path of an object on the celestial sphere, including the possible part below the horizon, has a length proportional to the cosine of the declination. The speed of the diurnal motion of a celestial object is this cosine times 15° / hr = 15' / min = 15" / s.