Worlds of David Darling
Encyclopedia of Science
   
Home > Encyclopedia of Science

aberration of starlight





The difference between the observed position of a star and its true direction; this is a combined result of the observer's motion across the path of the incoming starlight and the finite speed of light. The effect is similar to that observed by a someone walking in the rain: though the rain is in fact falling vertically, because of the person's motion it appears to be falling at an angle.

There are three components of the aberration of starlight: annual aberration (up to 20.47") caused by the Earth's revolution around the Sun, diurnal aberration (up to 0.3") caused by the Earth's axial rotation, and the very small secular aberration caused by the motion of the solar system through space. Stars on the ecliptic appear to move and fro along a line of 41"; stars 90° from the ecliptic appear to trace out a circle of radius 20.5"; and stars in intermediate positions ellipses of major axis 41".


Related category

   • OPTICS AND OPTICAL PHENOMENA