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the equinoctial points a slow but direct motion on the ecliptic of 0"-31 annually, which is entirely independent of the figure of the earth, and would be the same if it were a sphere. Thus the sun and moon by moving the plane of the equator cause the equinoctial points to retrograde on the ecliptic: and the planets by moving the plane of the ecliptic give them a direct motion, though much less than the former. Consequently the difference of the two is the mean precession, which is proved both by theory and observation to be about 50"-1 annually (N. 146).
As the longitudes of all the fixed stars are increased by this quantity, the effects of precession are soon detected. It was accordingly discovered by Hipparchus in the year 128 before Christ, from a comparison of his own observations with those of Timocharis 155 years before. In the time of Hipparchus the entrance of the sun into the constellation Aries was the beginning of spring; but since that time the equinoctial points have receded 30°, so that the constellations called the signs of the zodiac are now at a considerable distance from those divisions of the ecliptic which bear their names. Moving at the rate of 50"-1 annually, the equinoctial points will accomplish a revolution in 25,868 years. But, as the precession varies in different centuries, the extent of this period will be slightly modified. Since the motion of the sun is direct, and that of the equinoctial points retrograde, he takes a shorter time to return to the equator than to arrive at the same stars; so that the tropical year of 365a 5h 48m 49.7 must be increased by the time he takes to move through an arc of 50"-1, in order to have the length of the sidereal year. The time required is 20m 195-6, so that the sidereal year contains 365a 6h 9m 9*6 mean solar days.
The mean annual precession is subject to a secular variation; for, although the change in the plane of the ecliptic in which the orbit of the sun lies be independent of the form of the earth, yet, by bringing the sun, moon, and earth into different relative positions from age to age, it alters the direct action of the two first on the prominent matter at the equator: on this account the motion of the equinox is greater by 0'455 now than it was in the time of Hipparchus. Consequently the actual length of the tropical year is about 4.21 shorter than it was at that time. The utmost change that it can experience from this cause amounts to 43 seconds.
Such is the secular motion of the equinoxes. But it is sometimes increased and sometimes diminished by periodic variations, whose periods depend upon the relative positions of the sun and moon with regard to the earth, and which are occasioned by the direct action of these bodies on the equator. Dr. Bradley discovered that by this action the moon causes the pole of the equator to describe a small ellipse in the heavens, the axes of which are 18"-5 and 13"-674, the longer being directed towards the pole of the ecliptic. The period of this inequality is about 19 years, the time employed by the nodes of the lunar orbit to accomplish a revolution. The sun causes a small variation in the description of this ellipse; it runs through its period in half a year. Since the whole earth obeys these motions, they affect the position of its axis of rotation with regard to the starry heavens, though not with regard to the surface of the earth; for in consequence of precession alone the pole of the equator moves in a circle round the pole of the ecliptic in 25,868 years, and by nutation alone it describes a small ellipse in the heavens every 19 years, on each side of which it deviates every half-year from the action of the sun. The real curve traced in the starry heavens by the imaginary prolongation of the earth's axis is compounded of these three motions (N. 147). This nutation in the earth's axis affects both the precession and obliquity with small periodic variations. But in consequence of the secular variation in the position of the terrestrial orbit, which is chiefly owing to the disturbing energy of Jupiter on the earth, the obliquity of the ecliptic is annually diminished, according to M. Bessel, by 0"-457. This variation in the course of ages may amount to 10 or 11 degrees; but the obliquity of the ecliptic to the equator can never vary more than 20 42' or 30, since the equator will follow in some measure the motion of the ecliptic.
It is evident that the places of all the celestial bodies are affected by precession and nutation. Their longitudes estimated from the equinox are augmented by precession; but, as it affects all the bodies equally, it makes no change in their relative positions. Both the celestial latitudes and longitudes are altered to a small degree by nutation; hence all observations must be corrected for these inequalities. In consequence of this real motion in the earth's axis, the pole-star, forming part of the con
stellation of the Little Bear, which was formerly 120 from the celestial pole, is now within 1° 24′ of it, and will continue to approach it till it is within 10, after which it will retreat from the pole for ages; and 12,934 years hence the star a Lyræ will come within 50 of the celestial pole, and become the polar star of the northern hemisphere.
Mean and Apparent Solar Time English and French Subdivisions of Time
Christian Era - Equinoctial Time Remarkable Eras depending upon the Position of the Solar Perigee - Inequality of the Lengths of the Seasons in the two Hemispheres Application of Astronomy to Chronology — English and French Standards of Weights and Measures.
ASTRONOMY has been of immediate and essential use in affording invariable standards for measuring duration, distance, magnitude, and velocity. The mean sidereal day measured by the time elapsed between two consecutive transits of any star at the same meridian (N. 148), and the mean sidereal year which is the time included between two consecutive returns of the sun to the same star, are immutable units with which all great periods of time are compared; the oscillations of the isochronous pendulum measure its smaller portions. By these invariable standards alone we can judge of the slow changes that other elements of the system may have undergone. Apparent sidereal time, which is measured by the transit of the equinoctial point at the meridian of any place, is a variable quantity, from the effects of precession and nutation. Clocks showing apparent sidereal time are employed for observation, and are so regulated that they indicate 0 0 0 at the instant the equinoctial point passes the meridian of the observatory. And as time is a measure of angular motion, the clock gives the distances of the heavenly bodies from the equinox by observing the instant at which each passes the meridian, and converting the interval into arcs at the rate of 150 to an hour.
The returns of the sun to the meridian and to the same equinox or solstice have been universally adopted as the measure of our civil days and years. The solar or astronomical day is the time that elapses between two consecutive noons or midnights. It is consequently longer than the sidereal day, on account of the proper motion of the sun during a revolution of the celestial
sphere. But, as the sun moves with greater rapidity at the winter than at the summer solstice, the astronomical day is more nearly equal to the sidereal day in summer than in winter. The obliquity of the ecliptic also affects its duration; for near the equinoxes the arc of the equator is less than the corresponding arc of the ecliptic, and in the solstices it is greater (N. 149). The astronomical day is therefore diminished in the first case, and increased in the second. If the sun moved uniformly in the equator at the rate of 59' 8"-33 every day, the solar days would be all equal. The time therefore which is reckoned by the arrival of an imaginary sun at the meridian, or of one which is supposed to move uniformly in the equator, is denominated mean solar time, and is given by clocks and watches in common life. When it is reckoned by the arrival of the real sun at the meridian, it is true or apparent time, and is given by dials. The difference between the time shown by a clock and a dial is the equation of time given in the Nautical Almanac, sometimes amounting to as much as sixteen minutes. The apparent and mean time coincide four times in the year; when the sun's daily motion in right ascension is equal to 59′ 8′′-33 in a mean solar day, which happens about the 16th of April, the 16th of June, the 1st of September, and the 25th of December.
The astronomical day begins at noon, but in common reckoning the day begins at midnight. In England it is divided into twenty-four hours, which are counted by twelve and twelve; but in France astronomers, adopting the decimal division, divide the day into ten hours, the hour into one hundred minutes, and the minute into a hundred seconds, because of the facility in computation, and in conformity with their decimal system of weights and measures. This subdivision is not now used in common life, nor has it been adopted in any other country; and although some scientific writers in France still employ that division of time, the custom is beginning to wear out. At one period during the French Revolution, the clock in the gardens of the Tuileries was regulated to show decimal time. The mean length of the day, though accurately determined, is not sufficient for the purposes either of astronomy or civil life. The tropical or civil year of 365d 5h 48m 49.7, which is the time elapsed between the consecutive returns of the sun to the mean equinoxes or solstices, including all the changes of the seasons, is a natural