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A transit telescope is a special purpose telescope mounted so as to allow it to be pointed only at objects in the sky crossing the local meridian, an event known as a transit. These telescopes rely on the rotation of the Earth to bring objects into their field of view.

Transit telescopes have been used since the 18th century to accurately measure positions of stars in order to catalog them. This is done by measuring the instant when the star passes through the local meridian. Its altitude above the horizon is noted as well. Knowing one's geographic latitude and longitude these measurements can be used to derive the star's right ascension and declination. They are a development resulting from the combination of the telescopes and meridian circles.

Once good star catalogs were available a transit telescope could be used anywhere in the world to accurately measure local longitude and time by observing local meridian transit times of catalogue stars. Prior to the invention of the atomic clock this was the most reliable source of accurate time.

A modern day example of this type of telescope is the 8 inch (~0.2m) Flagstaff Astrometric Scanning Transit Telescope (FASTT) at the USNO Flagstaff Station Observatorymarker.

Zenith telescopes

The NASA Orbital Debris Observatory used a 3 m aperature diameter liquid mirror optical transit telescope. The Large Zenith Telescopemarker (6 m aperature diameter) is also aimed straight up, and this type is also called transit telescopes, or sometimes zenith telescopes.

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