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Sidereal Day

Last updated date: 17th May 2024
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Sidereal Day Meaning

The rotation of the Earth in relation to the stars, rather than the sun, is determined by a sidereal day. It allows astronomers to keep track of time and determine where to aim their telescopes without having to worry about the Earth's orbit.

The Planet rotates once every 24 hours on its axis, and the sun loops through the sky.

The Earth rotates once entirely on its axis in 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds, which astronomers refer to as a Sidereal Day.

Sidereal Period of Earth

The Earth rotates once every 24 hours on its axis, and the sun loops through the sky. The days of the week are described by the time it takes the sun to return to its highest point in the sky, or from dawn to noon. This is referred to as a solar day by astronomers.

The time it takes the sun to complete one circuit around the sky and the time it takes our world to complete one rotation, on the other hand, are not the same. If you've spent your whole life believing that the Earth rotates in 24 hours, you're in for a big shock.

The Planet travels about 2.5 million kilometers along its orbit in the time it takes to rotate once around its axis. The sun will not appear in the same part of the sky at the end of the rotation because the Earth has shifted. The Earth must rotate for another four minutes to return to facing the sun.

A solar day, in other words, is the time it takes the Earth to spin once – and then some. A sidereal day is the time it takes to complete one rotation, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds.

Every sidereal day, the stars appear in the same position in the sky at the same time in this scheme. The vernal equinox – when the sun sits in the atmosphere at the first moment of spring in the northern hemisphere – passes directly overhead at sidereal noon. Every night, watch the stars rise four minutes earlier to see the four-minute gap between sidereal and solar days. If Vega rises at 9 p.m. tonight, it will rise at 8:56 p.m. the next night, and 8:52 p.m. the night after that, and so on. We see each star earlier and earlier as the Earth orbits the sun.

The disparity between a solar day and a sidereal day is generally very slight in most situations, such as on Earth. However, there are a few significant exceptions in our solar system.

Mercury rotates at two-thirds the speed of light, with a sidereal day of 58 Earth days and an orbital period of 88 Earth days. Since the sidereal day is such a small part of Mercury's orbital cycle, an inhabitant must wait approximately 170 Earth days from one noon to the next.

However, this means that on Mercury, a solar day is longer than a year!

A Mercury year is about half the length of a Mercury solar day. Imagine ringing in the new year at midnight, then getting ready for the next New Year's Eve party at noon!

The planet Venus is an outlier. She orbits the sun faster than she rotates on her axis, with a 225 Earth-day orbit compared to 243 Earth-days to complete one rotation. This is why Venus is the solar system's slowest-spinning planet. The planet Venus is spinning at around 6 km/hr at its equator, while Earth's equator is hurling along at about 1700 km/hr.

Venus, on the other hand, does so by rotating backwards. The native Venusians would watch the sunrise in the west and set in the east if the suffocating cloud layer on Venus ever broke.

Venus is the only planet in the solar system where the sidereal day is longer than the solar day due to its backward rotation. Before the earth has completed one rotation, the sun hits its highest point in the sky.

When all of this is summed up, Venus has a solar day that lasts 117 Earth days. In other words, in a Venusian year, the sun only rises twice.

Sidereal Day Definition in Short

Note - The time it takes for the Planet to rotate around its axis enough for distant stars to appear in the same position in the sky is known as a sidereal day. The time it takes for the Earth to rotate around its axis so that the Sun remains in the same spot in the sky is known as a solar day. The solar day is four minutes less than the sidereal day.

Synodic Period of the Moon

Because of the Earth's rotation around the Sun, the Moon takes 29.5 days to return to the same position on the celestial sphere as referenced to the Sun; this is known as a synodic month (lunar phases as observed from the Earth are correlated with the synodic month).

Synodic Period of Mercury

Mercury has an 88-day sidereal period, but a 116-day synodic period; Venus has a 225-day sidereal period, but a 584-day synodic period.

FAQs on Sidereal Day

Q1 - Explain Sidereal Day.

Ans - The time it takes the Earth to complete one rotation around its axis in relation to the ‘fixed' stars is known as a sidereal day. We regard the stars as though they were bound to a hypothetical celestial sphere orbiting the Earth at a great distance.

The time at which a single star crosses the celestial meridian (i.e. directly overhead) on two consecutive nights is used to calculate the sidereal day. A sidereal day on Earth is marginally shorter than a solar day measured from dawn to noon, lasting 23 hours 56 minutes 4.091 seconds.

Since an Earth day is generally described as 24 hours, the sidereal day is 4 minutes shorter. This means that a specific star will rise 4 minutes earlier every night, explaining why certain constellations are only apparent at certain times of the year.

Q2 - What do You mean by Sidereal Rotation?

Ans -  Astronomers use sidereal days to describe the rotation periods of other planets. It helps separate the speed at which the earth is rotating from the speed at which it is orbiting the sun. The rotation of the Earth in relation to the stars, rather than the sun, measured by a sidereal day is sidereal rotation. 

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