Stars and Proper Motion


Recognize this constellation?

Well, at the time stamp of about 2000 AD (CE), I think you will. It’s one of the most famous constellations in the night sky.

Well, technically, it’s not a constellation at all.

It’s an asterism—a commonly recognized grouping of stars that isn’t actually official as a constellation. There are tons of asterisms that you no doubt recognize…the Summer Triangle, the Great Square of Pegasus, the Big Dipper.

That’s right. That mess of stars up there that keeps changing for some reason…that’s the oft-recognized Big Dipper, part of the constellation Ursa Major.

So why the heck are the stars moving?

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Improved Telescope Mounting


So, any idea what this handy-dandy thing is?

Okay, so maybe I sort of gave it away in the post title…

I know what you’re about to say next. Why are we looking at a mount? What’s so special about a mount—isn’t the telescope itself more important?

And the fact is…I know where you’re going with that. The telescope is important, and without it, the mount would have no purpose. But without the mount, the telescope would be lost—it would have power, but nothing to do.

How’s that work?

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The Celestial Sphere

When you look up at the night sky on a clear, dark night, it seems as if the stars are glittering like bright thumbtacks on a great canvas above you. (You can get a similar effect–with less light pollution–from a planetarium like the one above!)

In reality, space is not like a canvas, and stars are not like thumbtacks. It would be more accurate to describe us Earthlings as floating in a vast, cosmic ocean.

Astronomers know this. But still, it’s helpful to map the sky in exactly the way it appears to us: as a sphere around the Earth. And so we use a model called the celestial sphere.

Telescopes operate solely based on the celestial sphere: the mechanism that aims the telescope doesn’t need to know anything about how far away an object actually is in the cosmic sea, just where it is in the sky.

That makes the celestial sphere a useful reference tool. Researchers need to communicate with telescope operators and say, “Let’s look over there now.”

And so, everything is mapped on a spherical model that pretends the night sky is a finite globe, inside which the Earth hovers like a bubble.

So…what exactly is the celestial sphere?

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