Most introductory physics courses begin with the concept of an object (usually a particle) having a precise position or location in space (I will not address spacetime here) relative to something else, the origin of a three-dimensional coordinate system perhaps. My experience has been that physics students are inherently at home with this concept. In astronomy, we often begin by thinking about the sky. For the purposes of this article, I will simply define it as that which we see when we look away from Earth’s surface. It appears almost as a two-dimensional plane, perhaps even a curved surface. When we look at something in the sky, we really have no sense of distance. Indeed, when astronomers need the “position” of a star or planet in the sky, the quantity is two dimensional. Because the sky appears to wrap around Earth, celestial positions can be given entirely by angular quantities. Astronomers use right ascension and declination, respectively, as analogs of terrestrial longitude and latitude. Right ascension is the angular distance eastward around the celestial equator (the projection of Earth’s equator onto the celestial sphere) from the vernal equinox (where the celestial equator and the ecliptic intersect such that the Sun is moving from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere) to the object and declination is the object’s angular distance north or south of the celestial equator. So to an astronomer, for the purposes of aiming a telescope, position refers to a two-dimensional quantity because in the sky there is no direct sense of depth or distance.

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