Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Longest Day

Today is the summer solstice, and the Astronomy Picture of the Day has a cool composite picture with the atmosphere "turned off" so that the Sun and the stars are visible, showing the Sun surrounded by stars of the constellations Gemini and Taurus.

In the northern hemisphere, summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and the Sun is farthest north. You can use Stellarium to make a similar picture, turning off the atmosphere for a dark sky in daylight hours, and turning off the ground so you can see the entire sky (even the part blocked by the Earth). In this picture (click for a bigger view), I set the time to 14:06 EDT and turned on the ecliptic line (Sun's orbital path, in red) and the projection of the Earth's equator (blue line). I've zoomed out so you can see where these lines cross, and see that the Sun is indeed at its highest point relative to the equator. I've also turned on constellation lines and labels so you can see the Sun's position against the stars, surrounded by Gemini, Auriga, Taurus, and Orion.

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