Equinox (celestial coordinates)

In astronomy, an equinox is either of two places on the celestial sphere at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator.[1][2][3] Although there are two such intersections, the equinox associated with the Sun's ascending node is used as the conventional origin of celestial coordinate systems and referred to simply as "the equinox". In contrast to the common usage of spring/vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the celestial coordinate system equinox is a direction in space rather than a moment in time.

In a cycle of about 25,800 years, the equinox moves westward with respect to the celestial sphere because of perturbing forces; therefore, in order to define a coordinate system, it is necessary to specify the date for which the equinox is chosen. This date should not be confused with the epoch. Astronomical objects show real movements such as orbital and proper motions, and the epoch defines the date for which the position of an object applies. Therefore, a complete specification of the coordinates for an astronomical object requires both the date of the equinox and of the epoch.[4]

The currently used standard equinox and epoch is J2000.0, which is January 1, 2000 at 12:00 TT. The prefix "J" indicates that it is a Julian epoch. The previous standard equinox and epoch was B1950.0, with the prefix "B" indicating it was a Besselian epoch. Before 1984 Besselian equinoxes and epochs were used. Since that time Julian equinoxes and epochs have been used.[5]

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