More thoughts on astronomy

You can see half the sky. Polaris basically doesn't move. We are at 34 deg N lat. Therefore:

Polaris is 34 deg above the horizon. I know this because it would be at "0" on the equator and 90 at the N pole.

A full 34 deg of sky around polaris is visible every night (and day). Those stars never disappear from view.

That leaves 56 deg of the "northern" celestial sphere that varies in its visibility. It means that there are 34 deg of southern stars which are never visible, and another 56 deg of "southern" celestial sphere which always varies in visibility.

Maximal visibility of the star field is on the equator, then. But it's a quality vs quantity thing, as the most northern and southern stars will always be on the horizon.

The axial tilt of the Earth has nothing to do with any of the above assertions. The tilt affects observations of solar objects and can explain why the duration of night and day varies over longer stretches of time. So the tilt is important only insofar as it governs the length of the night.

There is no place on the Earth where night and day are equal in length for every season. There are places where the variation is minimized (e.g. the equator) but the change can never be erased.

If you look straight up, and imagine a line shooting off into space, and then trace that line over one day, you make a cone. The cone can be thought to have a "night" part and a "day" part who's ratios differ according to the season (summer nights are shortest).

If night and day were equal, then one could see all the stars if one started viewing just after sunset in Jan, and stopped viewing 6 months later in July. That is because 12 hours of night are equal to 6 months - or rather, you can "time travel" into the future if you start viewing later in the night. The midnight sky in Jan looks the same as 11pm sky in Feb.

If you really wanted to see all the stars, you'd be better off starting in the Fall and stopping in the Spring, since the nights are (significantly) longer. There is no need to view all year-round to achieve this goal.

When we get to solar objects (including the sun!) I get a little hazier. Does the sun move at the same rate as the stars? It can't because this is inconsistent with the observation that different stars are overhead at midnight in any particular season. Okay, but does the Sun move faster or slower? What a coincidence that there are 12 months in the year and 12 hours in the night! Remarkable that I've never noticed that before.

No comments: