Epoch (astronomy)

In astronomy, an epoch is a moment in time used as a reference point for some time-varying astronomical quantity, such as the celestial coordinates or elliptical orbital elements of a celestial body, because these are subject to perturbations and vary with time. These time-varying astronomical quantities might include, for example, the mean longitude or mean anomaly of a body, the node of its orbit relative to a reference plane, the direction of the apogee or aphelion of its orbit, or the size of the major axis of its orbit.

The main use of astronomical quantities specified in this way is to calculate other relevant parameters of motion, in order to predict future positions and velocities. The applied tools of the disciplines of celestial mechanics or its subfield orbital mechanics (for predicting orbital paths and positions for bodies in motion under the gravitational effects of other bodies) can be used to generate an ephemeris, a table of values giving the positions and velocities of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time or times.

Astronomical quantities can be specified in any of several ways, for example, as a polynomial function of the time-interval, with an epoch as a temporal point of origin (this is a common current way of using an epoch). Alternatively, the time-varying astronomical quantity can be expressed as a constant, equal to the measure that it had at the epoch, leaving its variation over time to be specified in some other way—for example, by a table, as was common during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The word epoch was often used in a different way in older astronomical literature, e.g. during the 18th century, in connection with astronomical tables. At that time, it was customary to denote as "epochs", not the standard date and time of origin for time-varying astronomical quantities, but rather the values at that date and time of those time-varying quantities themselves. In accordance with that alternative historical usage, an expression such as 'correcting the epochs' would refer to the adjustment, usually by a small amount, of the values of the tabulated astronomical quantities applicable to a fixed standard date and time of reference (and not, as might be expected from current usage, to a change from one date and time of reference to a different date and time).

Astronomical data are often specified not only in their relation to an epoch or date of reference but also in their relations to other conditions of reference, such as coordinate systems specified by "equinox", or "equinox and equator", or "equinox and ecliptic" – when these are needed for fully specifying astronomical data of the considered type.

When the data are dependent for their values on a particular coordinate system, the date of that coordinate system needs to be specified directly or indirectly.

This page was last edited on 20 April 2018, at 14:52.
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J2000 under CC BY-SA license.

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