Glossary term: Étoiles circumpolaires

Description: Dans la plupart des lieux sur la Terre, le pôle Nord céleste ou le pôle Sud céleste est visible dans le ciel à une certaine distance au-dessus de l'horizon. Pour un observateur situé dans un lieu spécifique, les étoiles semblent tourner autour du pôle céleste au fur et à mesure que le temps passe : chaque étoile trace un cercle dans le ciel, le cercle étant centré sur le pôle céleste vers lequel pointe l'axe de la Terre. Aux deux points où le cercle croise l'horizon de l'observateur, l'étoile en question se lève et se couche, respectivement. Pour les étoiles qui sont suffisamment proches du pôle céleste, l'ensemble du cercle tracé est au-dessus de l'horizon. Notre observateur ne voit jamais ces étoiles se lever ou se coucher. Ces étoiles qui ne se couchent jamais sont appelées étoiles circumpolaires.

Pour savoir si une étoile est circumpolaire, il faut prendre en compte la latitude géographique de l'observateur et la déclinaison de l'étoile - cette dernière étant l'angle entre la direction de l'étoile et celle de l'équateur céleste. Dans l'hémisphère nord, une étoile est circumpolaire si sa déclinaison est supérieure à 90° moins la latitude de l'observateur. Dans l'hémisphère sud, il faut tenir compte du fait que les latitudes sur Terre et les valeurs de la déclinaison ont toutes deux un signe négatif. En tenant compte de ces signes, dans l'hémisphère sud, une étoile est circumpolaire si sa déclinaison est inférieure à -90° moins la latitude de l'observateur.

Related Terms:

See this term in other languages

Term and definition status: The original definition of this term in English have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher
The translation of this term and its definition is still awaiting approval

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

Related Media

An all-sky image. Above a ring of stones shaped like door-frames, the bright curved paths of star trails seem to form circles

Stone Star Circles, Startrails above Stonehenge, by Till Credner, Germany

Caption: Second place in the IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Star trails. Astronomy is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) of the sciences, and as such has connection to various cultures over millennia. This image in a way conveys this relationship by being contextualised in Stonehenge. There is much research into what astronomers call archeoastronomy sites, and how they connect to the sky (for example, seasons, phases of the moon and much more). Civilizations across time and from all over the world have their own views and interpretations of what they see in the sky, and this has been tied not only to culture but also to the people’s day-to-day and seasonal activities. The “concentric circles” which are often referred to as “star trails”, are the result of the apparent motion of the sky, which is in reality due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. The small dot appearing towards the top center of the image is Polaris – The North or Pole Star. Polaris is only visible to observers in the Northern latitudes. The height of the Pole Star can be used to infer the observer’s actual latitude. Stonehenge is located at around 51° North. This image is taken from one of the most notable ancient sites in the world, brings us back in time, and makes us wonder about the stories told by the people that lived in that place many millennia ago.
Credit: Till Credner/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Bright star trails for arcs around the center of the image behind the silhouette of a tree

Half day exposure to the north star, by Fabrizio Melandri, Italy

Caption: First place in the IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Star trails. This star trail image shows the apparent movement of the stars in the night sky, which results from the Earth’s rotation around its polar axis. The trees in the foreground serve as an anchor as we turn with the Earth. The bright white semi-circle in the center of the image is the North (Pole) star – Polaris, which is located very close to the North Celestial Pole. One way to imagine that the Earth is at center of hollow crystal sphere, and the stars are embedded on this sphere, as the Earth spins on its axis, an observer on Earth sees the stars rising and setting, following an arc, because the horizon prevents the observer from the full arc for stars that are further away from the Celestial Pole. The North Celestial Pole (and its opposite the South Celestial Pole) is essentially formed by extending the line of the Earth’s axis. Capturing this image requires the photographer to take a long exposure with the camera on a tripod and pointing towards the Pole Star (North Hemisphere). In the Southern Hemisphere there is no star as close as Polaris is to the Celestial Pole, so the position of the South Celestial Pole is found using the South Cross and Pointer Stars (Alpha and Beta Centauri). Although overall the image has a slight blue tint, it does capture the varying colours of stars, it is easy to distinguish between the higher temperature blue stars and the lower temperature of the whitish stars, and even lower temperature reddish stars. The reason for this variation in colour is because higher temperature stars emit more in shorter wavelengths (bluer), compared to lower temperature stars which emit in longer wavelengths (redder).
Credit: Fabrizio Melandri/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

The ladle-shaped Big Dipper with the orange star Arcturus to its left. Right is the diffuse disk-shaped Andromeda galaxy

Dreamlike Starry Sky and Airglow

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   This spectacular image shows a range of prominent constellations visible in the night sky over the desert of inner Mongolia, taken in August 2019. The yellowish star in the bottom left side is Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, and the brightest in the constellation Boötes. The handle of the Big Dipper points towards this bright star and the Dipper is also visible above Boötes. The Northern Dipper (Bei Dou) is a traditional Chinese constellation. It is considered a chariot in which the Judges for Nobility are sitting. Arcturus is considered a single-star asterism, named the Horn, which forms part of the Chinese super-constellation for the spring, the Azure Dragon of the East. The front of the Northern Dipper points towards the star at the top of the photograph which is now called Polaris, the northern Pole Star. In ancient China, there was no bright star at the pole, so the stars in the nearest vicinity of the pole were considered to belong to the emperor and his family in the constellation the Purple Forbidden Palace. At least as early as mediaeval times, Polaris was considered part of the constellation of the Great Emperor of Heaven. Corona Borealis is also visible in the top right corner of this image, although not in its completeness. It is called the Coiled Thong in China. With its characteristic semi-circular shape, this is one of the smaller constellations of the 88 modern ones, but also can be traced back at least three or four millennia through the Roman “Crown”, the Greek wedding “Wreath”, and the Babylonian “Asterism of Dignity”. The modern name literally means “Northern Crown” in Latin. At the upper-right edge of the image, we find the part of the modern constellation Cassiopeia that is considered the Flying Corridor and an Auxiliary Road in ancient China. The W-shape of Cassiopeia is cut off by the edge of the photograph but the constellations to its south and southeast, Andromeda and Perseus, are clearly recognisable. Prominently we see the Andromeda galaxy, the most distant object that is visible to the unaided eye. It is located at the outermost outliers of the band of the Milky Way, which could explain why it has not been mentioned explicitly in ancient star catalogues, as it was mistakenly thought to be part of the Milky Way. The photograph also shows clearly reddish parts of the Milky Way that don’t appear bright to the naked eye, and also open clusters that are formed from the same molecular cloud, i.e., groups of stars with similar ages. This region is part of many big and small asterisms in traditional Chinese uranology.
Credit: Likai Lin/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

La Grande Ourse, sept étoiles brillantes en forme de louche, vue en 4 saisons, à chaque fois sous un angle différent.

La Grande Ourse aux quatre saisons

Caption: Gagnant du concours d'astrophotographie 2022 de l'IAU OAE, catégorie Images fixes de motifs célestes. La Terre se déplaçant autour du Soleil, la position des étoiles dans le ciel nocturne semble changer au cours de l'année. Ce phénomène est bien illustré par cette mosaïque, dont les images ont été prises au cours des quatre saisons de l'année 2020 dans la région de la Vénétie, en Italie, et qui montre le mouvement apparent des constellations Ursa Minor et Ursa Major. Ursa Minor, la Petite Ourse, est une constellation de l'hémisphère nord. Elle contient le pôle céleste nord, marqué à notre époque par une étoile brillante appelée Polaris ou Étoile Polaire. Pendant des siècles, Polaris a été utilisée pour la navigation dans l'hémisphère nord, car elle se trouve presque à la position exacte du pôle depuis environ 200 ans. Au Moyen Âge et dans l'Antiquité, il n'y avait pas d'étoile polaire ; le pôle nord céleste se trouvait dans une région sombre et les Grecs considéraient la "Petite Ourse" comme une compagne de la "Grande Ourse", qui est plus facilement reconnaissable. Les étoiles les plus brillantes de ces constellations étaient également considérées comme des chars par les Grecs, comme l'indique le célèbre poème didactique d'Aratus datant du IIIe siècle avant l'ère commune. L'astérisme le plus célèbre de la Grande Ourse, composé de sept étoiles, porte différents noms dans le monde (nordique). Alors que les Grecs le considéraient comme un char, il est appelé "L'Ourse du Nord" en Chine et "Les Sept Bœufs" par les anciens Romains. Pour les Grecs, voyager dans la direction de l'horizon au-dessus duquel apparaît Ursa Major signifiait se diriger vers le pays des ours (l'Europe du Nord). Un animal est clairement reconnaissable si l'on tient compte de toutes les étoiles plus faibles qui se trouvent à proximité des sept étoiles brillantes. Ils ont considéré qu'il s'agissait d'une ourse femelle car la mythologie grecque associe cet animal à la nymphe Callisto, dont l'histoire décrit les rituels d'initiation des femmes. En haut à gauche, nous voyons une image prise un soir de printemps, tandis que l'image ci-dessous montre la même portion du ciel un soir d'été. Dans le sens inverse des aiguilles d'une montre, nous voyons le ciel en automne dans l'image en bas à droite, tandis que l'image en haut à droite montre finalement cette portion du ciel en hiver. Notez que les positions relatives d'Ursa Minor et de la Grande Ourse ne changent pas, mais que toutes les étoiles semblent être déplacées dans un cercle autour de Polaris. Cette étoile pointant plein nord se trouve au point d'intersection de l'axe de rotation de la Terre et de la sphère céleste. Le déplacement des constellations au cours de l'année constitue donc une horloge ou un calendrier planétaire, utilisé par les civilisations anciennes pour mesurer l'année et prédire les changements de saison. Il permet de déterminer, par exemple, le meilleur moment pour semer et naviguer, car les vents changent avec les saisons.
Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

The Big Dipper drifts lower towards the horizon on the left, on the right a comet rises in the sky.

Big Dipper and Comet Neowise C2020 F3

Caption: This time-lapse documents the trajectory of the iconic Big Dipper across three frames taken in July 2020. Captured from three locations in Italy, Tre Cime di Lavaredo Auronzo di Cadore, Monte Rite, Cibiana di Cadore, and Casera Razzo, Vigo di Cadore, this visual odyssey showcases the captivating journey of the Big Dipper with the addition of trails of stars painting a celestial canvas. It not only traces the path of this renowned asterism but also features the rare appearance of comet Neowise C/2020 F3, an extraordinary event that graced our skies during July 2020.
Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

The Big Dipper sinks in the sky with the handle sweeping out a larger circle than the bowl of the asterism.

Big Dipper Over the Mono Lake

Caption: The Big Dipper asterism gracefully moves above the otherworldly tufa formations of Mono Lake, California. The time-lapse captures the Big Dipper’s movement across the northern horizon until its inferior conjunction. At Mono Lake’s latitude (+38°), the stars of the Big Dipper remain circumpolar, except for Alkaid. The North Star sits 38° above the horizon, just outside the field of view in the top right. The lunar illumination bathes the landscape in a soft glow, gradually fading as the Moon sets, cloaking the scene in darkness.
Credit: Fabrizio Melandri/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

A traditional Chinese building. Above the streaks of stars form a circular pattern around the north star.

Star Trails of the Forbidden City

Caption: Beneath the celestial ballet of star trails that weave their way across the night sky, the Beijing Forbidden City stands as a testament to ancient celestial connections in this image captured in March 2022. Designed with a cosmic alignment in mind, the palace echoes the orientation of the North Star, also known as Polaris, a celestial anchor that has long guided navigators and symbolised steadiness in the sky. It was believed that the Emperor embodied the earthly representation of this pole star, bridging the realms between heaven and earth. In this harmonious one-hour exposure captured with a smartphone, the streaks of stars trace their nightly journey across the firmament, converging toward the North Star, reflecting the precision of both architectural design and celestial paths.
Credit: Stephanie Ziyi Ye/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Related Activities

Navigation in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond

Navigation in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond

astroEDU educational activity (links to astroEDU website)
Description: Learn the ancient skill of Celestial Navigation

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Tags: History , Geography , Celestial navigation
Age Ranges: 14-16 , 16-19
Education Level: Middle School , Secondary
Areas of Learning: Discussion Groups , Modelling , Social Research
Costs: Low Cost
Duration: 1 hour 30 mins
Group Size: Group
Skills: Analysing and interpreting data , Asking questions , Communicating information , Developing and using models , Planning and carrying out investigations , Using mathematics and computational thinking