Meridian (astronomy)

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The meridian on the celestial sphere. The yellow hemi-disk is bounded above by the observer's upper meridian.

In astronomy, the meridian is the great circle passing through the celestial poles, as well as the zenith and nadir of an observer's location. Consequently, it contains also the north and south points on the horizon, and it is perpendicular to the celestial equator and horizon. A celestial meridian is coplanar with the analogous terrestrial meridian projected onto the celestial sphere. Hence, the number of celestial meridians is also infinite.

The celestial meridian is undefined when the observer is at the geographical poles, since at these two points, the zenith and nadir are on the celestial poles, and any great circle passing through the celestial poles also passes through the zenith and nadir.

There are several ways to divide the meridian into semicircles. In the horizontal coordinate system, the observer's meridian is divided into halves terminated by the horizon's north and south points. The observer's upper meridian passes through the zenith while the lower meridian passes through the nadir. Another way, the meridian is divided into the local meridian, the semicircle that contains the observer's zenith and both celestial poles, and the opposite semicircle, which contains the nadir and both poles.

On any given (sidereal) day/night, a celestial object will appear to drift across, or transit, the observer's upper meridian as Earth rotates, since the meridian is fixed to the local horizon. At culmination, the object contacts the upper meridian and reaches its highest point in the sky. An object's right ascension and the local sidereal time can be used to determine the time of its culmination (see hour angle).

The term meridian comes from the Latin meridies, which means both "midday" and "south", as the celestial equator appears to tilt southward from the Northern Hemisphere.

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References[edit]

  • Millar, William (2006). The Amateur Astronomer's Introduction to the Celestial Sphere. Cambridge University Press.