A star catalogue or star catalog, is an astronomical catalogue that lists stars. In astronomy, many stars are referred to by catalogue numbers. There are a great many different star catalogues which have been produced for different purposes over the years, this article covers only some of the more quoted ones. Star catalogues were compiled by many different ancient people, including the Babylonians, Chinese and Arabs, they were sometimes accompanied by a star chart for illustration. Most modern catalogues are available in electronic format and can be downloaded from space agencies data centres. Completeness and accuracy is described by the weakest apparent magnitude V and the accuracy of the positions. From their existing records, it is known that the ancient Egyptians recorded the names of only a few identifiable constellations and a list of thirty-six decans that were used as a star clock; the Egyptians called the circumpolar star "the star that cannot perish" and, although they made no known formal star catalogues, they nonetheless created extensive star charts of the night sky which adorn the coffins and ceilings of tomb chambers.
Although the ancient Sumerians were the first to record the names of constellations on clay tablets, the earliest known star catalogues were compiled by the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia in the late 2nd millennium BC, during the Kassite Period. They are better known by their Assyrian-era name'Three Stars Each'; these star catalogues, written on clay tablets, listed thirty-six stars: twelve for "Anu" along the celestial equator, twelve for "Ea" south of that, twelve for "Enlil" to the north. The Mul. Apin lists, dated to sometime before the Neo-Babylonian Empire, are direct textual descendants of the "Three Stars Each" lists and their constellation patterns show similarities to those of Greek civilization. In Ancient Greece, the astronomer and mathematician Eudoxus laid down a full set of the classical constellations around 370 BC, his catalogue Phaenomena, rewritten by Aratus of Soli between 275 and 250 BC as a didactic poem, became one of the most consulted astronomical texts in antiquity and beyond.
It contains descriptions of the positions of the stars, the shapes of the constellations and provided information on their relative times of rising and setting. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek astronomers Timocharis of Alexandria and Aristillus created another star catalogue. Hipparchus completed his star catalogue in 129 BC, which he compared to Timocharis' and discovered that the longitude of the stars had changed over time; this led him to determine the first value of the precession of the equinoxes. In the 2nd century, Ptolemy of Roman Egypt published a star catalogue as part of his Almagest, which listed 1,022 stars visible from Alexandria. Ptolemy's catalogue was based entirely on an earlier one by Hipparchus, it remained the standard star catalogue in the Arab worlds for over eight centuries. The Islamic astronomer al-Sufi updated it in 964, the star positions were redetermined by Ulugh Beg in 1437, but it was not superseded until the appearance of the thousand-star catalogue of Tycho Brahe in 1598.
Although the ancient Vedas of India specified how the ecliptic was to be divided into twenty-eight nakshatra, Indian constellation patterns were borrowed from Greek ones sometime after Alexander's conquests in Asia in the 4th century BC. The earliest known inscriptions for Chinese star names were written on oracle bones and date to the Shang Dynasty. Sources dating from the Zhou Dynasty which provide star names include the Zuo Zhuan, the Shi Jing, the "Canon of Yao" in the Book of Documents; the Lüshi Chunqiu written by the Qin statesman Lü Buwei provides most of the names for the twenty-eight mansions. An earlier lacquerware chest found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng contains a complete list of the names of the twenty-eight mansions. Star catalogues are traditionally attributed to Shi Shen and Gan De, two rather obscure Chinese astronomers who may have been active in the 4th century BC of the Warring States period; the Shi Shen astronomy is attributed to Shi Shen, the Astronomic star observation to Gan De.
It was not until the Han Dynasty that astronomers started to observe and record names for all the stars that were apparent in the night sky, not just those around the ecliptic. A star catalogue is featured in one of the chapters of the late 2nd-century-BC history work Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and contains the "schools" of Shi Shen and Gan De's work. Sima's catalogue—the Book of Celestial Offices —includes some 90 constellations, the stars therein named after temples, ideas in philosophy, locations such as markets and shops, different people such as farmers and soldiers. For his Spiritual Constitution of the Universe of 120 AD, the astronomer Zhang Heng compiled a star catalogue comprising 124 constellations. Chinese constellation names were adopted by the Koreans and Japanese. A large number of star catalogues were published by Muslim astronomers in the medieval Islamic world; these were Zij treatises, including Arzachel's Tables of Toledo, the Maragheh observatory's Zij-i Ilkhani and Ulugh Beg's Zij-i-Sultani.
In astronomy, stellar classification is the classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. Electromagnetic radiation from the star is analyzed by splitting it with a prism or diffraction grating into a spectrum exhibiting the rainbow of colors interspersed with spectral lines; each line indicates a particular chemical element or molecule, with the line strength indicating the abundance of that element. The strengths of the different spectral lines vary due to the temperature of the photosphere, although in some cases there are true abundance differences; the spectral class of a star is a short code summarizing the ionization state, giving an objective measure of the photosphere's temperature. Most stars are classified under the Morgan-Keenan system using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, M, a sequence from the hottest to the coolest; each letter class is subdivided using a numeric digit with 0 being hottest and 9 being coolest. The sequence has been expanded with classes for other stars and star-like objects that do not fit in the classical system, such as class D for white dwarfs and classes S and C for carbon stars.
In the MK system, a luminosity class is added to the spectral class using Roman numerals. This is based on the width of certain absorption lines in the star's spectrum, which vary with the density of the atmosphere and so distinguish giant stars from dwarfs. Luminosity class 0 or Ia+ is used for hypergiants, class I for supergiants, class II for bright giants, class III for regular giants, class IV for sub-giants, class V for main-sequence stars, class sd for sub-dwarfs, class D for white dwarfs; the full spectral class for the Sun is G2V, indicating a main-sequence star with a temperature around 5,800 K. The conventional color description takes into account only the peak of the stellar spectrum. In actuality, stars radiate in all parts of the spectrum; because all spectral colors combined appear white, the actual apparent colors the human eye would observe are far lighter than the conventional color descriptions would suggest. This characteristic of'lightness' indicates that the simplified assignment of colors within the spectrum can be misleading.
Excluding color-contrast illusions in dim light, there are indigo, or violet stars. Red dwarfs are a deep shade of orange, brown dwarfs do not appear brown, but hypothetically would appear dim grey to a nearby observer; the modern classification system is known as the Morgan–Keenan classification. Each star is assigned a spectral class from the older Harvard spectral classification and a luminosity class using Roman numerals as explained below, forming the star's spectral type. Other modern stellar classification systems, such as the UBV system, are based on color indexes—the measured differences in three or more color magnitudes; those numbers are given labels such as "U-V" or "B-V", which represent the colors passed by two standard filters. The Harvard system is a one-dimensional classification scheme by astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, who re-ordered and simplified a prior alphabetical system. Stars are grouped according to their spectral characteristics by single letters of the alphabet, optionally with numeric subdivisions.
Main-sequence stars vary in surface temperature from 2,000 to 50,000 K, whereas more-evolved stars can have temperatures above 100,000 K. Physically, the classes indicate the temperature of the star's atmosphere and are listed from hottest to coldest; the spectral classes O through M, as well as other more specialized classes discussed are subdivided by Arabic numerals, where 0 denotes the hottest stars of a given class. For example, A0 denotes A9 denotes the coolest ones. Fractional numbers are allowed; the Sun is classified as G2. Conventional color descriptions are traditional in astronomy, represent colors relative to the mean color of an A class star, considered to be white; the apparent color descriptions are what the observer would see if trying to describe the stars under a dark sky without aid to the eye, or with binoculars. However, most stars in the sky, except the brightest ones, appear white or bluish white to the unaided eye because they are too dim for color vision to work. Red supergiants are cooler and redder than dwarfs of the same spectral type, stars with particular spectral features such as carbon stars may be far redder than any black body.
The fact that the Harvard classification of a star indicated its surface or photospheric temperature was not understood until after its development, though by the time the first Hertzsprung–Russell diagram was formulated, this was suspected to be true. In the 1920s, the Indian physicist Meghnad Saha derived a theory of ionization by extending well-known ideas in physical chemistry pertaining to the dissociation of molecules to the ionization of atoms. First he applied it to the solar chromosphere to stellar spectra. Harvard astronomer Cecilia Payne demonstrated that the O-B-A-F-G-K-M spectral sequence is a sequence in temperature; because the classification sequence predates our understanding that it is a temperature sequence, the placement of a spectrum into a given subtype, such as B3 or A7, depends upon estimates of the strengths of absorption features in stellar spectra. As a result, these subtypes are not evenly divided into any sort of mathematically representable intervals; the Yerkes spectral classification called the MKK system from the authors' initial
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical object is a parameter that determines the amount by which its orbit around another body deviates from a perfect circle. A value of 0 is a circular orbit, values between 0 and 1 form an elliptic orbit, 1 is a parabolic escape orbit, greater than 1 is a hyperbola; the term derives its name from the parameters of conic sections, as every Kepler orbit is a conic section. It is used for the isolated two-body problem, but extensions exist for objects following a Klemperer rosette orbit through the galaxy. In a two-body problem with inverse-square-law force, every orbit is a Kepler orbit; the eccentricity of this Kepler orbit is a non-negative number. The eccentricity may take the following values: circular orbit: e = 0 elliptic orbit: 0 < e < 1 parabolic trajectory: e = 1 hyperbolic trajectory: e > 1 The eccentricity e is given by e = 1 + 2 E L 2 m red α 2 where E is the total orbital energy, L is the angular momentum, mred is the reduced mass, α the coefficient of the inverse-square law central force such as gravity or electrostatics in classical physics: F = α r 2 or in the case of a gravitational force: e = 1 + 2 ε h 2 μ 2 where ε is the specific orbital energy, μ the standard gravitational parameter based on the total mass, h the specific relative angular momentum.
For values of e from 0 to 1 the orbit's shape is an elongated ellipse. The limit case between an ellipse and a hyperbola, when e equals 1, is parabola. Radial trajectories are classified as elliptic, parabolic, or hyperbolic based on the energy of the orbit, not the eccentricity. Radial orbits hence eccentricity equal to one. Keeping the energy constant and reducing the angular momentum, elliptic and hyperbolic orbits each tend to the corresponding type of radial trajectory while e tends to 1. For a repulsive force only the hyperbolic trajectory, including the radial version, is applicable. For elliptical orbits, a simple proof shows that arcsin yields the projection angle of a perfect circle to an ellipse of eccentricity e. For example, to view the eccentricity of the planet Mercury, one must calculate the inverse sine to find the projection angle of 11.86 degrees. Next, tilt any circular object by that angle and the apparent ellipse projected to your eye will be of that same eccentricity; the word "eccentricity" comes from Medieval Latin eccentricus, derived from Greek ἔκκεντρος ekkentros "out of the center", from ἐκ- ek-, "out of" + κέντρον kentron "center".
"Eccentric" first appeared in English in 1551, with the definition "a circle in which the earth, sun. Etc. deviates from its center". By five years in 1556, an adjectival form of the word had developed; the eccentricity of an orbit can be calculated from the orbital state vectors as the magnitude of the eccentricity vector: e = | e | where: e is the eccentricity vector. For elliptical orbits it can be calculated from the periapsis and apoapsis since rp = a and ra = a, where a is the semimajor axis. E = r a − r p r a + r p = 1 − 2 r a r p + 1 where: ra is the radius at apoapsis. Rp is the radius at periapsis; the eccentricity of an elliptical orbit can be used to obtain the ratio of the periapsis to the apoapsis: r p r a = 1 − e 1 + e For Earth, orbital eccentricity ≈ 0.0167, apoapsis= aphelion and periapsis= perihelion relative to sun. For Earth's annual orbit path, ra/rp ratio = longest_radius / shortest_radius ≈ 1.034 relative to center point of path. The eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is about 0.0167.
The apparent magnitude of an astronomical object is a number, a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The magnitude scale is logarithmic. A difference of 1 in magnitude corresponds to a change in brightness by a factor of 5√100, or about 2.512. The brighter an object appears, the lower its magnitude value, with the brightest astronomical objects having negative apparent magnitudes: for example Sirius at −1.46. The measurement of apparent magnitudes or brightnesses of celestial objects is known as photometry. Apparent magnitudes are used to quantify the brightness of sources at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. An apparent magnitude is measured in a specific passband corresponding to some photometric system such as the UBV system. In standard astronomical notation, an apparent magnitude in the V filter band would be denoted either as mV or simply as V, as in "mV = 15" or "V = 15" to describe a 15th-magnitude object; the scale used to indicate magnitude originates in the Hellenistic practice of dividing stars visible to the naked eye into six magnitudes.
The brightest stars in the night sky were said to be of first magnitude, whereas the faintest were of sixth magnitude, the limit of human visual perception. Each grade of magnitude was considered twice the brightness of the following grade, although that ratio was subjective as no photodetectors existed; this rather crude scale for the brightness of stars was popularized by Ptolemy in his Almagest and is believed to have originated with Hipparchus. In 1856, Norman Robert Pogson formalized the system by defining a first magnitude star as a star, 100 times as bright as a sixth-magnitude star, thereby establishing the logarithmic scale still in use today; this implies that a star of magnitude m is about 2.512 times as bright as a star of magnitude m + 1. This figure, the fifth root of 100, became known as Pogson's Ratio; the zero point of Pogson's scale was defined by assigning Polaris a magnitude of 2. Astronomers discovered that Polaris is variable, so they switched to Vega as the standard reference star, assigning the brightness of Vega as the definition of zero magnitude at any specified wavelength.
Apart from small corrections, the brightness of Vega still serves as the definition of zero magnitude for visible and near infrared wavelengths, where its spectral energy distribution approximates that of a black body for a temperature of 11000 K. However, with the advent of infrared astronomy it was revealed that Vega's radiation includes an Infrared excess due to a circumstellar disk consisting of dust at warm temperatures. At shorter wavelengths, there is negligible emission from dust at these temperatures. However, in order to properly extend the magnitude scale further into the infrared, this peculiarity of Vega should not affect the definition of the magnitude scale. Therefore, the magnitude scale was extrapolated to all wavelengths on the basis of the black-body radiation curve for an ideal stellar surface at 11000 K uncontaminated by circumstellar radiation. On this basis the spectral irradiance for the zero magnitude point, as a function of wavelength, can be computed. Small deviations are specified between systems using measurement apparatuses developed independently so that data obtained by different astronomers can be properly compared, but of greater practical importance is the definition of magnitude not at a single wavelength but applying to the response of standard spectral filters used in photometry over various wavelength bands.
With the modern magnitude systems, brightness over a wide range is specified according to the logarithmic definition detailed below, using this zero reference. In practice such apparent magnitudes do not exceed 30; the brightness of Vega is exceeded by four stars in the night sky at visible wavelengths as well as the bright planets Venus and Jupiter, these must be described by negative magnitudes. For example, the brightest star of the celestial sphere, has an apparent magnitude of −1.4 in the visible. Negative magnitudes for other bright astronomical objects can be found in the table below. Astronomers have developed other photometric zeropoint systems as alternatives to the Vega system; the most used is the AB magnitude system, in which photometric zeropoints are based on a hypothetical reference spectrum having constant flux per unit frequency interval, rather than using a stellar spectrum or blackbody curve as the reference. The AB magnitude zeropoint is defined such that an object's AB and Vega-based magnitudes will be equal in the V filter band.
As the amount of light received by a telescope is reduced by transmission through the Earth's atmosphere, any measurement of apparent magnitude is corrected for what it would have been as seen from above the atmosphere. The dimmer an object appears, the higher the numerical value given to its apparent magnitude, with a difference of 5 magnitudes corresponding to a brightness factor of 100. Therefore, the apparent magnitude m, in the spectral band x, would be given by m x = − 5 log 100 , more expressed in terms of common logarithms as m x
A constellation is a group of stars that forms an imaginary outline or pattern on the celestial sphere representing an animal, mythological person or creature, a god, or an inanimate object. The origins of the earliest constellations go back to prehistory. People used them to relate stories of their beliefs, creation, or mythology. Different cultures and countries adopted their own constellations, some of which lasted into the early 20th century before today's constellations were internationally recognized. Adoption of constellations has changed over time. Many have changed in shape; some became popular. Others were limited to single nations; the 48 traditional Western constellations are Greek. They are given in Aratus' work Phenomena and Ptolemy's Almagest, though their origin predates these works by several centuries. Constellations in the far southern sky were added from the 15th century until the mid-18th century when European explorers began traveling to the Southern Hemisphere. Twelve ancient constellations belong to the zodiac.
The origins of the zodiac remain uncertain. In 1928, the International Astronomical Union formally accepted 88 modern constellations, with contiguous boundaries that together cover the entire celestial sphere. Any given point in a celestial coordinate system lies in one of the modern constellations; some astronomical naming systems include the constellation where a given celestial object is found to convey its approximate location in the sky. The Flamsteed designation of a star, for example, consists of a number and the genitive form of the constellation name. Other star patterns or groups called asterisms are not constellations per se but are used by observers to navigate the night sky. Examples of bright asterisms include the Pleiades and Hyades within the constellation Taurus or Venus' Mirror in the constellation of Orion.. Some asterisms, like the False Cross, are split between two constellations; the word "constellation" comes from the Late Latin term cōnstellātiō, which can be translated as "set of stars".
The Ancient Greek word for constellation is ἄστρον. A more modern astronomical sense of the term "constellation" is as a recognisable pattern of stars whose appearance is associated with mythological characters or creatures, or earthbound animals, or objects, it can specifically denote the recognized 88 named constellations used today. Colloquial usage does not draw a sharp distinction between "constellations" and smaller "asterisms", yet the modern accepted astronomical constellations employ such a distinction. E.g. the Pleiades and the Hyades are both asterisms, each lies within the boundaries of the constellation of Taurus. Another example is the northern asterism known as the Big Dipper or the Plough, composed of the seven brightest stars within the area of the IAU-defined constellation of Ursa Major; the southern False Cross asterism includes portions of the constellations Carina and Vela and the Summer Triangle.. A constellation, viewed from a particular latitude on Earth, that never sets below the horizon is termed circumpolar.
From the North Pole or South Pole, all constellations south or north of the celestial equator are circumpolar. Depending on the definition, equatorial constellations may include those that lie between declinations 45° north and 45° south, or those that pass through the declination range of the ecliptic or zodiac ranging between 23½° north, the celestial equator, 23½° south. Although stars in constellations appear near each other in the sky, they lie at a variety of distances away from the Earth. Since stars have their own independent motions, all constellations will change over time. After tens to hundreds of thousands of years, familiar outlines will become unrecognizable. Astronomers can predict the past or future constellation outlines by measuring individual stars' common proper motions or cpm by accurate astrometry and their radial velocities by astronomical spectroscopy; the earliest evidence for the humankind's identification of constellations comes from Mesopotamian inscribed stones and clay writing tablets that date back to 3000 BC.
It seems that the bulk of the Mesopotamian constellations were created within a short interval from around 1300 to 1000 BC. Mesopotamian constellations appeared in many of the classical Greek constellations; the oldest Babylonian star catalogues of stars and constellations date back to the beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, most notably the Three Stars Each texts and the MUL. APIN, an expanded and revised version based on more accurate observation from around 1000 BC. However, the numerous Sumerian names in these catalogues suggest that they built on older, but otherwise unattested, Sumerian traditions of the Early Bronze Age; the classical Zodiac is a revision of Neo-Babylonian constellations from the 6th century BC. The Greeks adopted the Babylonian constellations in the 4th century BC. Twenty Ptolemaic constellations are from the Ancient Near East. Another ten have the same stars but different names. Biblical scholar, E. W. Bullinger interpreted some of the creatures mentioned in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation as the middle signs of the four quarters of the Zodiac, with the Lion as Leo, the Bull as Taurus, the Man representing Aquarius and the Eagle standing in for Scorpio.
The biblical Book of Job also
Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that involves precise measurements of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies. The information obtained by astrometric measurements provides information on the kinematics and physical origin of the Solar System and our galaxy, the Milky Way; the history of astrometry is linked to the history of star catalogues, which gave astronomers reference points for objects in the sky so they could track their movements. This can be dated back to Hipparchus, who around 190 BC used the catalogue of his predecessors Timocharis and Aristillus to discover Earth's precession. In doing so, he developed the brightness scale still in use today. Hipparchus compiled a catalogue with their positions. Hipparchus's successor, included a catalogue of 1,022 stars in his work the Almagest, giving their location and brightness. In the 10th century, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi carried out observations on the stars and described their positions and star color. Ibn Yunus observed more than 10,000 entries for the Sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 metres.
His observations on eclipses were still used centuries in Simon Newcomb's investigations on the motion of the Moon, while his other observations of the motions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn inspired Laplace's Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn. In the 15th century, the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg compiled the Zij-i-Sultani, in which he catalogued 1,019 stars. Like the earlier catalogs of Hipparchus and Ptolemy, Ulugh Beg's catalogue is estimated to have been precise to within 20 minutes of arc. In the 16th century, Tycho Brahe used improved instruments, including large mural instruments, to measure star positions more than with a precision of 15–35 arcsec. Taqi al-Din measured the right ascension of the stars at the Constantinople Observatory of Taqi ad-Din using the "observational clock" he invented; when telescopes became commonplace, setting circles sped measurements James Bradley first tried to measure stellar parallaxes in 1729. The stellar movement proved too insignificant for his telescope, but he instead discovered the aberration of light and the nutation of the Earth's axis.
His cataloguing of 3222 stars was refined in 1807 by Friedrich Bessel, the father of modern astrometry. He made the first measurement of stellar parallax: 0.3 arcsec for the binary star 61 Cygni. Being difficult to measure, only about 60 stellar parallaxes had been obtained by the end of the 19th century by use of the filar micrometer. Astrographs using astronomical photographic plates sped the process in the early 20th century. Automated plate-measuring machines and more sophisticated computer technology of the 1960s allowed more efficient compilation of star catalogues. In the 1980s, charge-coupled devices replaced photographic plates and reduced optical uncertainties to one milliarcsecond; this technology made astrometry less expensive. In 1989, the European Space Agency's Hipparcos satellite took astrometry into orbit, where it could be less affected by mechanical forces of the Earth and optical distortions from its atmosphere. Operated from 1989 to 1993, Hipparcos measured large and small angles on the sky with much greater precision than any previous optical telescopes.
During its 4-year run, the positions and proper motions of 118,218 stars were determined with an unprecedented degree of accuracy. A new "Tycho catalog" drew together a database of 1,058,332 to within 20-30 mas. Additional catalogues were compiled for the 23,882 double/multiple stars and 11,597 variable stars analyzed during the Hipparcos mission. Today, the catalogue most used is USNO-B1.0, an all-sky catalogue that tracks proper motions, positions and other characteristics for over one billion stellar objects. During the past 50 years, 7,435 Schmidt camera plates were used to complete several sky surveys that make the data in USNO-B1.0 accurate to within 0.2 arcsec. Apart from the fundamental function of providing astronomers with a reference frame to report their observations in, astrometry is fundamental for fields like celestial mechanics, stellar dynamics and galactic astronomy. In observational astronomy, astrometric techniques help identify stellar objects by their unique motions, it is instrumental for keeping time, in that UTC is the atomic time synchronized to Earth's rotation by means of exact astronomical observations.
Astrometry is an important step in the cosmic distance ladder because it establishes parallax distance estimates for stars in the Milky Way. Astrometry has been used to support claims of extrasolar planet detection by measuring the displacement the proposed planets cause in their parent star's apparent position on the sky, due to their mutual orbit around the center of mass of the system. Astrometry is more accurate in space missions that are not affected by the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere. NASA's planned Space Interferometry Mission was to utilize astrometric techniques to detect terrestrial planets orbiting 200 or so of the nearest solar-type stars; the European Space Agency's Gaia Mission, launched in 2013, applies astrometric techniques in its stellar census. In addition to the detection of exoplanets, it can be used to determine their mass. Astrometric measurements are used by astrophysicists to constrain certain models in celestial mechanics. By measuring the velocities of pulsars, it is possible to put a limit on the asymmetry of supernova explosions.
Right ascension is the angular distance of a particular point measured eastward along the celestial equator from the Sun at the March equinox to the point above the earth in question. When paired with declination, these astronomical coordinates specify the direction of a point on the celestial sphere in the equatorial coordinate system. An old term, right ascension refers to the ascension, or the point on the celestial equator that rises with any celestial object as seen from Earth's equator, where the celestial equator intersects the horizon at a right angle, it contrasts with oblique ascension, the point on the celestial equator that rises with any celestial object as seen from most latitudes on Earth, where the celestial equator intersects the horizon at an oblique angle. Right ascension is the celestial equivalent of terrestrial longitude. Both right ascension and longitude measure an angle from a primary direction on an equator. Right ascension is measured from the Sun at the March equinox i.e. the First Point of Aries, the place on the celestial sphere where the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north at the March equinox and is located in the constellation Pisces.
Right ascension is measured continuously in a full circle from that alignment of Earth and Sun in space, that equinox, the measurement increasing towards the east. As seen from Earth, objects noted to have 12h RA are longest visible at the March equinox. On those dates at midnight, such objects will reach their highest point. How high depends on their declination. Any units of angular measure could have been chosen for right ascension, but it is customarily measured in hours and seconds, with 24h being equivalent to a full circle. Astronomers have chosen this unit to measure right ascension because they measure a star's location by timing its passage through the highest point in the sky as the Earth rotates; the line which passes through the highest point in the sky, called the meridian, is the projection of a longitude line onto the celestial sphere. Since a complete circle contains 24h of right ascension or 360°, 1/24 of a circle is measured as 1h of right ascension, or 15°. A full circle, measured in right-ascension units, contains 24 × 60 × 60 = 86400s, or 24 × 60 = 1440m, or 24h.
Because right ascensions are measured in hours, they can be used to time the positions of objects in the sky. For example, if a star with RA = 1h 30m 00s is at its meridian a star with RA = 20h 00m 00s will be on the/at its meridian 18.5 sidereal hours later. Sidereal hour angle, used in celestial navigation, is similar to right ascension, but increases westward rather than eastward. Measured in degrees, it is the complement of right ascension with respect to 24h, it is important not to confuse sidereal hour angle with the astronomical concept of hour angle, which measures angular distance of an object westward from the local meridian. The Earth's axis rotates westward about the poles of the ecliptic, completing one cycle in about 26,000 years; this movement, known as precession, causes the coordinates of stationary celestial objects to change continuously, if rather slowly. Therefore, equatorial coordinates are inherently relative to the year of their observation, astronomers specify them with reference to a particular year, known as an epoch.
Coordinates from different epochs must be mathematically rotated to match each other, or to match a standard epoch. Right ascension for "fixed stars" near the ecliptic and equator increases by about 3.05 seconds per year on average, or 5.1 minutes per century, but for fixed stars further from the ecliptic the rate of change can be anything from negative infinity to positive infinity. The right ascension of Polaris is increasing quickly; the North Ecliptic Pole in Draco and the South Ecliptic Pole in Dorado are always at right ascension 18h and 6h respectively. The used standard epoch is J2000.0, January 1, 2000 at 12:00 TT. The prefix "J" indicates. Prior to J2000.0, astronomers used the successive Besselian epochs B1875.0, B1900.0, B1950.0. The concept of right ascension has been known at least as far back as Hipparchus who measured stars in equatorial coordinates in the 2nd century BC, but Hipparchus and his successors made their star catalogs in ecliptic coordinates, the use of RA was limited to special cases.
With the invention of the telescope, it became possible for astronomers to observe celestial objects in greater detail, provided that the telescope could be kept pointed at the object for a period of time. The easiest way to do, to use an equatorial mount, which allows the telescope to be aligned with one of its two pivots parallel to the Earth's axis. A motorized clock drive is used with an equatorial mount to cancel out the Earth's rotation; as the equatorial mount became adopted for observation, the equatorial coordinate system, which includes right ascension, was adopted at the same time for simplicity. Equatorial mounts could be pointed at objects with known right ascension and declination by the use of setting circles; the first star catalog to use right ascen