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Physics – Formulas – Sidereal Time
Astronomers used coordinate systems to find and map objects. Because Earth ‘s time is not exact, Astronomers rely on Sidereal time.
A sidereal day is two successive upper meridian crossings by the Sun of the Vernal Equinox – of course and easier way to remember this is that a sidereal day is measured by a complete Earth rotation with respect to the stars (not the Sun which would be a standard Solar day).
Vernal Equinox is when the Sun passes the Celestial Equator between the northern and southern hemisphere.
Vernal Equinox is also known as the first day of Spring – or (around) March 21.
Midnight at the Vernal Equinox is 00:00 hours local Sidereal time.
It is also important to understand that Astronomer’s often use different times than we are used to – for example our watches are in sync with the Sun. This means that one day is equal to Earth ‘s rotation with respect to the Sun. This is called a Solar day. For more accuracy, Astronomer’s use Sidereal time, Earth ‘s rotation with respect to the stars. This means that the same constellation appears at the same place after a complete rotation of the Earth. When comparing a Solar day to a Sidereal day, subtract 4 minutes from each other:
Sidereal Day = Solar Day – 4 minutes
This is why the night sky is different depending on the time of year, they rise 4 minutes earlier each night. So why 4 minutes?
A complete circle is 360 � and Earth orbits the Sun in 365.25 days, or about 1 � a day.
An Earth rotation is also 360 which is 24 hours (or 1440 minutes). Divide 360 � into 1440 minutes and there is 4 minutes left over. To match with Sidereal time, the Earth must rotate 1 � more for the Sun to appear in the same spot day by day.
A Sidereal Month is also used, and is the orbit of the Moon with respect to the stars which is 27.3 days. A Synodic Month is the standard Moon orbit about the Earth – from full moon to full moon – which is 29.5 days.