In astronomy and navigation, the Celestial Sphere is an abstract sphere that has an arbitrarily large radius and is concentric to Earth. All objects in the sky can be conceived as being projected upon the inner surface of the celestial sphere, which may be centered on Earth or the observer. If centered on the observer, half of the sphere would resemble a hemispherical screen over the observing location.
The celestial sphere is a conceptual tool used in spherical astronomy to specify the position of an object in the sky without consideration of its linear distance from the observer. The celestial equator divides the celestial sphere into northern and southern hemispheres.
Celestial coordinate systems
These concepts are important for understanding celestial coordinate systems, frameworks for measuring the positions of objects in the sky. Certain reference lines and planes on Earth, when projected onto the celestial sphere, form the bases of the reference systems. These include the Earth's equator, axis, and orbit. At their intersections with the celestial sphere, these form the celestial equator, the north and south celestial poles, and the ecliptic, respectively. As the celestial sphere is considered arbitrary or infinite in radius, all observers see the celestial equator, celestial poles, and ecliptic at the same place against the background stars.
From these bases, directions toward objects in the sky can be quantified by constructing celestial coordinate systems. Similar to geographic longitude and latitude, the equatorial coordinate system specifies positions relative to the celestial equator and celestial poles, using right ascension and declination. The ecliptic coordinate system specifies positions relative to the ecliptic (Earth's orbit), using ecliptic longitude and latitude. Besides the equatorial and ecliptic systems, some other celestial coordinate systems, like the galactic coordinate system, are more appropriate for particular purposes.