MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: Will constellations change their shapes as seen from different planets?

Date: Mon Jan 21 21:25:06 2002
Posted By: Donald E Duggan, Undergraduate, Astronomy/physics - fire science, just plain ol' home
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 1011660123.As

In very simple terms, the answer to your question is "no."  Keep in mind, 
however that were you to be a follower of the astrology crowd, a person 
born on your birthday on, say Pluto, would have a very different "chart" - 
if you put more stock in such things than mere curiosity, than it would be 
from here on earth.  From Pluto, or any other planet for that matter, the 
Sun would appear to be in very different constellations with differing 
moons rising and other planets playing key roles in the charts than if 
they were drawn from our home.  This is key to debunkers thinking 
astrology a lot of bunk, which I believe it is.

The part of your question posed about using telescopes may play a bit of a 
part in angular measurements, but not by much.  The distances are so vast 
that one would have to be well outside the confines and influence of our 
sun to notice much of a difference in any of our local asterisms or 
constellations.  The angular changes would be greater from outside the 
orbit of earth than from inside, but one would need quite a 
fancy telescope to be able to detect the change. [Moderator's note: 
professional astronomers do have to correct for the effect's of the
Earth's motion when making very precise angular measurements.]

On the other hand, hang around for another twenty-five thousand years or so 
and you will see that Polaris no longer hangs above the earth's geographic 
North Pole or at the Celestial Sphere's north pole. This is mostly
because the direction of the Earth's north pole slowly changes, but also
because the stars themselves are moving (and so is the Sun!). At any rate the
heavens and the constellations would then appear quite different.  As a matter
of fact, it is true that some of the constellations astrologers use today on 
charts are quite different from those used thousands of years ago by the 
astrologers for King Herod or Pharaoh Ramses.  So, if you don't like Polaris as
your guiding star, stick around for a while and that will change.

For more on this and other  interesting historical and scientific concepts on
the state of cosmology/astronomy, see Timothy Ferris' book "Coming of Age in the
Milky  Way" and his latest, "The Whole Shebang".  Both are excellent books and 
easy enough for the moderately educated to understand.

Thanks for your question and the opportunity to shake a little of the 
cobwebs from my brain.  It has been years since I covered this aspact of 
astronomy.  I had just returned from the back yard looking at the Orion 
Nebula when I found your question posed at my e-mail site. Hope the answer 
was of a bit of help to you.

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