Earth's rotation

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An animation of Earth's rotation around the planet's axis Earth-5-50.gif
An animation of Earth's rotation around the planet's axis
This long-exposure photo of the northern night sky above the Nepali Himalayas shows the apparent paths of the stars as Earth rotates. Earth Rotation (Nepal, Himalayas).jpg
This long-exposure photo of the northern night sky above the Nepali Himalayas shows the apparent paths of the stars as Earth rotates.

Earth's rotation is the rotation of Planet Earth around its own axis. Earth rotates eastward, in prograde motion. As viewed from the north pole star Polaris, Earth turns counter clockwise.

Rotation circular movement of an object around a center (or point) of rotation . A three-dimensional object always rotates around an imaginary line called a rotation axis

A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object can always be rotated around an infinite number of imaginary lines called rotation axes. If the axis passes through the body's center of mass, the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation about an external point, e.g. the Earth about the Sun, is called a revolution or orbital revolution, typically when it is produced by gravity. The axis is called a pole.

Earth Third planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. According to radiometric dating and other sources of evidence, Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago. Earth's gravity interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon, Earth's only natural satellite. Earth orbits around the Sun in 365.26 days, a period known as an Earth year. During this time, Earth rotates about its axis about 366.26 times.

In astronomy, axial tilt, also known as obliquity, is the angle between an object's rotational axis and its orbital axis, or, equivalently, the angle between its equatorial plane and orbital plane. It differs from orbital inclination.


The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is the point in the Northern Hemisphere where Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface. This point is distinct from Earth's North Magnetic Pole. The South Pole is the other point where Earth's axis of rotation intersects its surface, in Antarctica.

North Pole Northern point where the Earths axis of rotation intersects its surface

The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is defined as the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface.

Northern Hemisphere half of Earth that is north of the equator

The Northern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is north of the Equator. For other planets in the Solar System, north is defined as being in the same celestial hemisphere relative to the invariable plane of the solar system as Earth's North Pole.

North Magnetic Pole Wandering point on the Northern Hemisphere

The North Magnetic Pole is the wandering point on the surface of Earth's Northern Hemisphere at which the planet's magnetic field points vertically downwards. There is only one location where this occurs, near the Geographic North Pole and the Geomagnetic North Pole.

Earth rotates once in about 24 hours with respect to the Sun, but once every 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds with respect to other, distant, stars (see below). Earth's rotation is slowing slightly with time; thus, a day was shorter in the past. This is due to the tidal effects the Moon has on Earth's rotation. Atomic clocks show that a modern day is longer by about 1.7 milliseconds than a century ago, [1] slowly increasing the rate at which UTC is adjusted by leap seconds. Analysis of historical astronomical records shows a slowing trend of about 2.3 milliseconds per century since the 8th century BCE. [2]

Sun Star at the centre of the Solar System

The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometers, or 109 times that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth. It accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Roughly three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen (~73%); the rest is mostly helium (~25%), with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.

Tidal acceleration

Tidal acceleration is an effect of the tidal forces between an orbiting natural satellite, and the primary planet that it orbits. The acceleration causes a gradual recession of a satellite in a prograde orbit away from the primary, and a corresponding slowdown of the primary's rotation. The process eventually leads to tidal locking, usually of the smaller first, and later the larger body. The Earth–Moon system is the best studied case.

Moon Earths natural satellite

The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits planet Earth and is Earth's only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the Solar System, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits. The Moon is after Jupiter's satellite Io the second-densest satellite in the Solar System among those whose densities are known.


Among the ancient Greeks, several of the Pythagorean school believed in the rotation of Earth rather than the apparent diurnal rotation of the heavens. Perhaps the first was Philolaus (470–385 BCE), though his system was complicated, including a counter-earth rotating daily about a central fire. [3]

Pythagoreanism system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers

Pythagoreanism originated in the 6th century BC, based on the teachings and beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans. Pythagoras established the first Pythagorean community in Crotone, Italy. Early-Pythagorean communities lived throughout Magna Graecia. Espousing a rigorous life of the intellect and strict rules on diet, clothing and behavior comprised a cult of following Pythagorean's Code. For example, the Code's diet prohibits the consumption or even touching any sort of bean or legume. Pythagoras’ death and disputes about his teachings led to the development of two philosophical traditions within Pythagoreanism. The practitioners of akousmatikoi were superseded in the 4th century BC as a significant mendicant school of philosophy by the Cynics. The Pythagorean mathēmatikoi philosophers were in the 4th century BC absorbed into the Platonic school.

Philolaus ancient greek philosopher

Philolaus was a Greek Pythagorean and pre-Socratic philosopher. He argued that at the foundation of everything is the part played by the limiting and limitless, which combine together in a harmony. He is also credited with originating the theory that the Earth was not the center of the Universe. According to August Böckh (1819), who cites Nicomachus, Philolaus was the successor of Pythagoras.

The Counter-Earth is a hypothetical body of the Solar System hypothesized by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Philolaus to support his non-geocentric cosmology, in which all objects in the universe revolve around an unseen "Central Fire". The Greek word Antichthon means "Counter-Earth".

A more conventional picture was that supported by Hicetas, Heraclides and Ecphantus in the fourth century BCE who assumed that Earth rotated but did not suggest that Earth revolved about the Sun. In the third century BCE, Aristarchus of Samos suggested the Sun's central place.

Hicetas was a Greek philosopher of the Pythagorean School. He was born in Syracuse. Like his fellow Pythagorean Ecphantus and the Academic Heraclides Ponticus, he believed that the daily movement of permanent stars was caused by the rotation of the Earth around its axis. When Copernicus referred to Nicetus Syracusanus in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium as having been cited by Cicero as an ancient who also argued that the earth moved, it is believed that he was actually referring to Hicetas.

Heraclides Ponticus was a Greek philosopher and astronomer who was born in Heraclea Pontica, now Karadeniz Ereğli, Turkey, and migrated to Athens. He is best remembered for proposing that the Earth rotates on its axis, from west to east, once every 24 hours. He is also hailed as the originator of the heliocentric theory, although this is doubted by some.

Aristarchus of Samos ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician

Aristarchus of Samos was an ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician who presented the first known heliocentric model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it. He was influenced by Philolaus of Croton, but Aristarchus identified the "central fire" with the Sun, and he put the other planets in their correct order of distance around the Sun. Like Anaxagoras before him, he suspected that the stars were just other bodies like the Sun, albeit further away from Earth. His astronomical ideas were often rejected in favor of the geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Nicolaus Copernicus attributed the heliocentric theory to Aristarchus.

However, Aristotle in the fourth century BCE criticized the ideas of Philolaus as being based on theory rather than observation. He established the idea of a sphere of fixed stars that rotated about Earth. [4] This was accepted by most of those who came after, in particular Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century CE), who thought Earth would be devastated by gales if it rotated. [5]

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

In 499 CE, the Indian astronomer Aryabhata wrote that the spherical Earth rotates about its axis daily, and that the apparent movement of the stars is a relative motion caused by the rotation of Earth. He provided the following analogy: "Just as a man in a boat going in one direction sees the stationary things on the bank as moving in the opposite direction, in the same way to a man at Lanka the fixed stars appear to be going westward." [6] [7]

In the 10th century, some Muslim astronomers accepted that Earth rotates around its axis. [8] According to al-Biruni, Abu Sa'id al-Sijzi (d. circa 1020) invented an astrolabe called al-zūraqī based on the idea believed by some of his contemporaries "that the motion we see is due to the Earth's movement and not to that of the sky." [9] [10] The prevalence of this view is further confirmed by a reference from the 13th century which states: "According to the geometers [or engineers] (muhandisīn), the Earth is in constant circular motion, and what appears to be the motion of the heavens is actually due to the motion of the Earth and not the stars." [9] Treatises were written to discuss its possibility, either as refutations or expressing doubts about Ptolemy's arguments against it. [11] At the Maragha and Samarkand observatories, Earth's rotation was discussed by Tusi (b. 1201) and Qushji (b. 1403); the arguments and evidence they used resemble those used by Copernicus. [12]

In medieval Europe, Thomas Aquinas accepted Aristotle's view [13] and so, reluctantly, did John Buridan [14] and Nicole Oresme [15] in the fourteenth century. Not until Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 adopted a heliocentric world system did the contemporary understanding of Earth's rotation begin to be established. Copernicus pointed out that if the movement of Earth is violent, then the movement of the stars must be very much more so. He acknowledged the contribution of the Pythagoreans and pointed to examples of relative motion. For Copernicus this was the first step in establishing the simpler pattern of planets circling a central Sun. [16]

Tycho Brahe, who produced accurate observations on which Kepler based his laws, used Copernicus's work as the basis of a system assuming a stationary Earth. In 1600, William Gilbert strongly supported Earth's rotation in his treatise on Earth's magnetism [17] and thereby influenced many of his contemporaries. [18] Those like Gilbert who did not openly support or reject the motion of Earth about the Sun are often called "semi-Copernicans". [19] A century after Copernicus, Riccioli disputed the model of a rotating Earth due to the lack of then-observable eastward deflections in falling bodies; [20] such deflections would later be called the Coriolis effect. However, the contributions of Kepler, Galileo and Newton gathered support for the theory of the rotation of Earth.

Empirical tests

Earth's rotation implies that the Equator bulges and the geographical poles are flattened. In his Principia , Newton predicted this flattening would occur in the ratio of 1:230, and pointed to the pendulum measurements taken by Richer in 1673 as corroboration of the change in gravity, [21] but initial measurements of meridian lengths by Picard and Cassini at the end of the 17th century suggested the opposite. However, measurements by Maupertuis and the French Geodesic Mission in the 1730s established the oblateness of Earth, thus confirming the positions of both Newton and Copernicus. [22]

In Earth's rotating frame of reference, a freely moving body follows an apparent path that deviates from the one it would follow in a fixed frame of reference. Because of the Coriolis effect, falling bodies veer slightly eastward from the vertical plumb line below their point of release, and projectiles veer right in the Northern Hemisphere (and left in the Southern) from the direction in which they are shot. The Coriolis effect is mainly observable at a meteorological scale, where it is responsible for the opposite directions of cyclone rotation in the Northern and Southern hemispheres (anticlockwise and clockwise, respectively).

Hooke, following a suggestion from Newton in 1679, tried unsuccessfully to verify the predicted eastward deviation of a body dropped from a height of 8.2 meters, but definitive results were obtained later, in the late 18th and early 19th century, by Giovanni Battista Guglielmini in Bologna, Johann Friedrich Benzenberg in Hamburg and Ferdinand Reich in Freiberg, using taller towers and carefully released weights. [n 1] A ball dropped from a height of 158.5 m departed by 27.4 mm from the vertical compared with a calculated value of 28.1 mm.

The most celebrated test of Earth's rotation is the Foucault pendulum first built by physicist Léon Foucault in 1851, which consisted of a lead-filled brass sphere suspended 67 m from the top of the Panthéon in Paris. Because of Earth's rotation under the swinging pendulum, the pendulum's plane of oscillation appears to rotate at a rate depending on latitude. At the latitude of Paris the predicted and observed shift was about 11 degrees clockwise per hour. Foucault pendulums now swing in museums around the world.


Starry circles arc around the south celestial pole, seen overhead at ESO's La Silla Observatory. Starry Spin-up.jpg
Starry circles arc around the south celestial pole, seen overhead at ESO's La Silla Observatory.

True solar day

Earth's rotation period relative to the Sun (solar noon to solar noon) is its true solar day or apparent solar day. It depends on Earth's orbital motion and is thus affected by changes in the eccentricity and inclination of Earth's orbit. Both vary over thousands of years, so the annual variation of the true solar day also varies. Generally, it is longer than the mean solar day during two periods of the year and shorter during another two. [n 2] The true solar day tends to be longer near perihelion when the Sun apparently moves along the ecliptic through a greater angle than usual, taking about 10 seconds longer to do so. Conversely, it is about 10 seconds shorter near aphelion. It is about 20 seconds longer near a solstice when the projection of the Sun's apparent motion along the ecliptic onto the celestial equator causes the Sun to move through a greater angle than usual. Conversely, near an equinox the projection onto the equator is shorter by about 20 seconds. Currently, the perihelion and solstice effects combine to lengthen the true solar day near 22 December by 30 mean solar seconds, but the solstice effect is partially cancelled by the aphelion effect near 19 June when it is only 13 seconds longer. The effects of the equinoxes shorten it near 26 March and 16 September by 18 seconds and 21 seconds, respectively. [24] [25] [26]

Mean solar day

The average of the true solar day during the course of an entire year is the mean solar day, which contains 86,400 mean solar seconds. Currently, each of these seconds is slightly longer than an SI second because Earth's mean solar day is now slightly longer than it was during the 19th century due to tidal friction. The average length of the mean solar day since the introduction of the leap second in 1972 has been about 0 to 2 ms longer than 86,400 SI seconds. [27] [28] [29] Random fluctuations due to core-mantle coupling have an amplitude of about 5 ms. [30] [31] The mean solar second between 1750 and 1892 was chosen in 1895 by Simon Newcomb as the independent unit of time in his Tables of the Sun. These tables were used to calculate the world's ephemerides between 1900 and 1983, so this second became known as the ephemeris second. In 1967 the SI second was made equal to the ephemeris second. [32]

The apparent solar time is a measure of Earth's rotation and the difference between it and the mean solar time is known as the equation of time.

Stellar and sidereal day

On a prograde planet like Earth, the stellar day is shorter than the solar day. At time 1, the Sun and a certain distant star are both overhead. At time 2, the planet has rotated 360deg and the distant star is overhead again but the Sun is not (1-2 = one stellar day). It is not until a little later, at time 3, that the Sun is overhead again (1-3 = one solar day). Sidereal day (prograde).png
On a prograde planet like Earth, the stellar day is shorter than the solar day. At time 1, the Sun and a certain distant star are both overhead. At time 2, the planet has rotated 360° and the distant star is overhead again but the Sun is not (1→2 = one stellar day). It is not until a little later, at time 3, that the Sun is overhead again (1→3 = one solar day).

Earth's rotation period relative to the fixed stars, called its stellar day by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), is 86,164.098 903 691 seconds of mean solar time (UT1) (23h 56m 4.098 903 691s, 0.997 269 663 237 16 mean solar days). [33] [n 3] Earth's rotation period relative to the precessing mean vernal equinox, named sidereal day , is 86,164.090 530 832 88 seconds of mean solar time (UT1) (23h 56m 4.090 530 832 88s, 0.997 269 566 329 08 mean solar days). [33] Thus, the sidereal day is shorter than the stellar day by about 8.4 ms. [35]

Both the stellar day and the sidereal day are shorter than the mean solar day by about 3 minutes56 seconds. The mean solar day in SI seconds is available from the IERS for the periods 1623–2005 [36] and 1962–2005. [37]

Recently (1999–2010) the average annual length of the mean solar day in excess of 86,400 SI seconds has varied between 0.25 ms and 1 ms, which must be added to both the stellar and sidereal days given in mean solar time above to obtain their lengths in SI seconds (see Fluctuations in the length of day).

Angular speed

Plot of latitude vs tangential speed. The dashed line shows the Kennedy Space Center example. The dot-dash line denotes typical airliner cruise speed. Earth rotation tangential speed.svg
Plot of latitude vs tangential speed. The dashed line shows the Kennedy Space Center example. The dot-dash line denotes typical airliner cruise speed.

The angular speed of Earth's rotation in inertial space is 7.2921150 ± 0.0000001×10^−5  radians per SI second. [33] [n 4] Multiplying by (180°/π radians) × (86,400 seconds/day) yields 360.985 6°/day, indicating that Earth rotates more than 360° relative to the fixed stars in one solar day. Earth's movement along its nearly circular orbit while it is rotating once around its axis requires that Earth rotate slightly more than once relative to the fixed stars before the mean Sun can pass overhead again, even though it rotates only once (360°) relative to the mean Sun. [n 5] Multiplying the value in rad/s by Earth's equatorial radius of 6,378,137 m (WGS84 ellipsoid) (factors of 2π radians needed by both cancel) yields an equatorial speed of 465.10 metres per second (1,674.4 km/h). [38] Some sources state that Earth's equatorial speed is slightly less, or 1,669.8 km/h. [39] This is obtained by dividing Earth's equatorial circumference by 24 hours. However, the use of only one circumference unwittingly implies only one rotation in inertial space, so the corresponding time unit must be a sidereal hour. This is confirmed by multiplying by the number of sidereal days in one mean solar day, 1.002 737 909 350 795, [33] which yields the equatorial speed in mean solar hours given above of 1,674.4 km/h.

The tangential speed of Earth's rotation at a point on Earth can be approximated by multiplying the speed at the equator by the cosine of the latitude. [40] For example, the Kennedy Space Center is located at latitude 28.59° N, which yields a speed of: cos 28.59° × 1674.4 km/h = 1470.2 km/h.


Earth's axial tilt is about 23.4deg. It oscillates between 22.1deg and 24.5deg on a 41,000-year cycle and is currently decreasing. AxialTiltObliquity.png
Earth's axial tilt is about 23.4°. It oscillates between 22.1° and 24.5° on a 41,000-year cycle and is currently decreasing.

In rotational axis

Earth's rotation axis moves with respect to the fixed stars (inertial space); the components of this motion are precession and nutation. It also moves with respect to Earth's crust; this is called polar motion.

Precession is a rotation of Earth's rotation axis, caused primarily by external torques from the gravity of the Sun, Moon and other bodies. The polar motion is primarily due to free core nutation and the Chandler wobble.

In rotational velocity

Tidal interactions

Over millions of years, Earth's rotation slowed significantly by tidal acceleration through gravitational interactions with the Moon. In this process, angular momentum is slowly transferred to the Moon at a rate proportional to , where is the orbital radius of the Moon. This process gradually increased the length of day to its current value and resulted in the Moon being tidally locked with Earth.

This gradual rotational deceleration is empirically documented with estimates of day lengths obtained from observations of tidal rhythmites and stromatolites; a compilation of these measurements [41] found the length of day to increase steadily from about 21 hours at 600Myr ago [42] to the current 24 hour value. By counting the microscopic lamina that form at higher tides, tidal frequencies (and thus day lengths) can be estimated, much like counting tree rings, though these estimates can be increasingly unreliable at older ages. [43]

Resonant stabilization

A simulated history of Earth's day length, depicting a resonant-stabilizing event throughout the Precambrian era. Simulated evolution of Earth's day length over time.png
A simulated history of Earth's day length, depicting a resonant-stabilizing event throughout the Precambrian era.

The current rate of tidal deceleration is anomalously high, implying Earth's rotational velocity must have decreased more slowly in the past. Empirical data [41] tentatively shows a sharp increase in rotational deceleration about 600Myr ago. Some models suggest that Earth maintained a constant day length of 21 hours throughout much of the Precambrian. [42] This day length corresponds to the semidiurnal resonant period of the thermally-driven atmospheric tide; at this day length, the decelerative lunar torque could have been canceled by an accelerative torque from the atmospheric tide, resulting in no net torque and a constant rotational period. This stabilizing effect could have been broken by a sudden change in global temperature. Recent computational simulations support this hypothesis and suggest the Marinoan or Sturtian glaciations broke this stable configuration about 600Myr ago, citing the resemblance of simulated results and existing paleorotational data. [45]

Global events

Deviation of day length from SI based day Deviation of day length from SI day.svg
Deviation of day length from SI based day

Additionally, some large-scale events, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, have caused the length of a day to shorten by 3 microseconds by affecting Earth's moment of inertia. [46] Post-glacial rebound, ongoing since the last Ice age, is also changing the distribution of Earth's mass thus affecting the moment of inertia of Earth and, by the conservation of angular momentum, Earth's rotation period. [47]

The length of the day can also be influenced by manmade structures. For example, NASA scientists calculated the water stored in the Three Gorges Dam has increased the length of Earth's day by 0.06 microseconds due to the shift in mass. [48]


The primary monitoring of Earth's rotation is performed with very-long-baseline interferometry coordinated with the Global Positioning System, satellite laser ranging, and other satellite techniques. This provides an absolute reference for the determination of universal time, precession, and nutation. [49]

Ancient observations

There are recorded observations of solar and lunar eclipses by Babylonian and Chinese astronomers beginning in the 8th century BCE, as well as from the medieval Islamic world and elsewhere. These observations can be used to determine changes in Earth's rotation over the last 27 centuries, since the length of the day is a critical parameter in the calculation of the place and time of eclipses. A change in day length of milliseconds per century shows up as a change of hours and thousands of kilometers in eclipse observations. The ancient data are consistent with a shorter day, meaning Earth was turning faster throughout the past. [50] [51]


An artist's rendering of the protoplanetary disk. Protoplanetary-disk.jpg
An artist's rendering of the protoplanetary disk.

Earth's original rotation was a vestige of the original angular momentum of the cloud of dust, rocks, and gas that coalesced to form the Solar System. This primordial cloud was composed of hydrogen and helium produced in the Big Bang, as well as heavier elements ejected by supernovas. As this interstellar dust is heterogeneous, any asymmetry during gravitational accretion resulted in the angular momentum of the eventual planet. [52]

However, if the giant-impact hypothesis for the origin of the Moon is correct, this primordial rotation rate would have been reset by the Theia impact 4.5 billion years ago. Regardless of the speed and tilt of Earth's rotation before the impact, it would have experienced a day some five hours long after the impact. [53] Tidal effects would then have slowed this rate to its modern value.

See also


  1. See Fallexperimente zum Nachweis der Erdrotation (German Wikipedia article).
  2. When Earth's eccentricity exceeds 0.047 and perihelion is at an appropriate equinox or solstice, only one period with one peak balances another period that has two peaks. [24]
  3. Aoki, the ultimate source of these figures, uses the term "seconds of UT1" instead of "seconds of mean solar time". [34]
  4. It can be established that SI seconds apply to this value by following the citation in "USEFUL CONSTANTS" to E. Groten "Parameters of Common Relevance of Astronomy, Geodesy, and Geodynamics" which states units are SI units, except for an instance not relevant to this value.
  5. In astronomy, unlike geometry, 360° means returning to the same point in some cyclical time scale, either one mean solar day or one sidereal day for rotation on Earth's axis, or one sidereal year or one mean tropical year or even one mean Julian year containing exactly 365.25 days for revolution around the Sun.

Related Research Articles

Day unit of time lasting 24 hours

A day is approximately the period of time during which the Earth completes one rotation around its axis. A solar day is the length of time which elapses between the Sun reaching its highest point in the sky two consecutive times.


In precise timekeeping, ΔT is a measure of the cumulative effect of the departure of the Earth's rotation period from the fixed-length day of atomic time. Formally it is the time difference obtained by subtracting Universal Time from Terrestrial Time : ΔT = TT − UT. The value of ΔT for the start of 1902 is approximately zero; for 2002 it is about 64 seconds. So the Earth's rotations over that century took about 64 seconds longer than would be required for days of atomic time.

Ecliptic apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere

The ecliptic is the mean plane of the apparent path in the Earth's sky that the Sun follows over the course of one year; it is the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system. This plane of reference is coplanar with Earth's orbit around the Sun. The ecliptic is not normally noticeable from Earth's surface because the planet's rotation carries the observer through the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, which obscure the Sun's apparent motion against the background of stars during the year.

Leap second Extra second inserted to keep civil time in sync with the Earths rotation

A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to civil time Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to keep it close to the mean solar time at Greenwich, in spite of the Earth's rotation slowdown and irregularities. UTC was introduced on January 1, 1972, initially with a 10 second lag behind International Atomic Time (TAI). Since that date, 27 leap seconds have been inserted, the most recent on December 31, 2016 at 23:59:60 UTC, so in 2018, UTC lags behind TAI by an offset of 37 seconds.

Year Orbital period of the Earth around the Sun

A year is the orbital period of the Earth moving in its orbit around the Sun. Due to the Earth's axial tilt, the course of a year sees the passing of the seasons, marked by change in weather, the hours of daylight, and, consequently, vegetation and soil fertility. The current year is 2019.

A time standard is a specification for measuring time: either the rate at which time passes; or points in time; or both. In modern times, several time specifications have been officially recognized as standards, where formerly they were matters of custom and practice. An example of a kind of time standard can be a time scale, specifying a method for measuring divisions of time. A standard for civil time can specify both time intervals and time-of-day.

Universal Time (UT) is a time standard based on Earth's rotation. It is a modern continuation of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), i.e., the mean solar time on the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, England. In fact, the expression "Universal Time" is ambiguous, as there are several versions of it, the most commonly used being Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and UT1. All of these versions of UT, except for UTC, are based on Earth's rotation relative to distant celestial objects, but with a scaling factor and other adjustments to make them closer to solar time. UTC is based on International Atomic Time, with leap seconds added to keep it within 0.9 second of UT1.

Sidereal time time standard

Sidereal time is a timekeeping system that astronomers use to locate celestial objects. Using sidereal time, it is possible to easily point a telescope to the proper coordinates in the night sky. Briefly, sidereal time is a "time scale that is based on Earth's rate of rotation measured relative to the fixed stars".

Tidal locking situation in which an astronomical objects orbital period matches its rotational period

Tidal locking occurs when the long-term interaction between a pair of co-orbiting astronomical bodies drives the rotation rate of at least one of them into the state where there is no more net transfer of angular momentum between this body and its orbit around the second body ; this condition of "no net transfer" must be satisfied over the course of one orbit around the second body. This does not mean that the rotation and spin rates are always perfectly synchronized throughout an orbit, as there can be some back and forth transfer over the course of an orbit. This effect arises from the gravitational gradient between the co-orbiting bodies, acting over a sufficiently long period of time.

Axial precession gravity-induced, slow, and continuous change in the orientation of an astronomical bodys rotational axis

In astronomy, axial precession is a gravity-induced, slow, and continuous change in the orientation of an astronomical body's rotational axis. In particular, it can refer to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth's axis of rotation in a cycle of approximately 25,772 years. This is similar to the precession of a spinning-top, with the axis tracing out a pair of cones joined at their apices. The term "precession" typically refers only to this largest part of the motion; other changes in the alignment of Earth's axis—nutation and polar motion—are much smaller in magnitude.

Solar time calculation of elapsed time by the apparent position of the sun

Solar time is a calculation of the passage of time based on the position of the Sun in the sky. The fundamental unit of solar time is the day. Two types of solar time are apparent solar time and mean solar time.

The orbital period is the time a given astronomical object takes to complete one orbit around another object, and applies in astronomy usually to planets or asteroids orbiting the Sun, moons orbiting planets, exoplanets orbiting other stars, or binary stars.

A synodic day is the period it takes for a planet to rotate once in relation to the star it is orbiting. For Earth, the synodic day is known as a solar day, and its mean length is 24 hours and 2.5 ms.

Rotation period Time that it takes to complete one revolution relative to the background stars

In astronomy, the rotation period of a celestial object is the time that it takes to complete one revolution around its axis of rotation relative to the background stars. It differs from the planet's solar day, which includes an extra fractional rotation needed to accommodate the portion of the planet's orbital period during one day.

Earths orbit Earth moving around the Sun

Earth orbits the Sun at an average distance of 149.60 million km, and one complete orbit takes 365.256 days, during which time Earth has traveled 940 million km. Earth's orbit has an eccentricity of 0.0167. Since the Sun constitutes 99.76% of the mass of the Sun–Earth system, the center of the orbit is extremely close to the center of the Sun.

Orbit of the Moon orbit

The Moon orbits Earth in the prograde direction and completes one revolution relative to the stars in about 27.32 days and one revolution relative to the Sun in about 29.53 days. Earth and the Moon orbit about their barycenter, which lies about 4,600 km (2,900 mi) from Earth's center. On average, the distance to the Moon is about 385,000 km (239,000 mi) from Earth's center, which corresponds to about 60 Earth radii.

Retrograde and prograde motion astronomy

Retrograde motion in astronomy is, in general, orbital or rotational motion of an object in the direction opposite the rotation of its primary, that is the central object. It may also describe other motions such as precession or nutation of the object's rotational axis. Prograde or direct motion is motion in the same direction as the primary rotates. Rotation is determined by an inertial frame of reference, such as distant fixed stars. However, retrograde and prograde can also refer to an object other than the primary if so described.

A tropical year is the time that the Sun takes to return to the same position in the cycle of seasons, as seen from Earth; for example, the time from vernal equinox to vernal equinox, or from summer solstice to summer solstice. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the seasonal cycle does not remain exactly synchronized with the position of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun. As a consequence, the tropical year is about 20 minutes shorter than the time it takes Earth to complete one full orbit around the Sun as measured with respect to the fixed stars.

Coordinated Universal Time Primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time

Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is within about 1 second of mean solar time at 0° longitude, and is not adjusted for daylight saving time. In some countries where English is spoken, the term Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is often used as a synonym for UTC and predates UTC by nearly 300 years.

Lunar month unit of time

In lunar calendars, a lunar month is the time between two successive syzygies. The precise definition varies, especially for the beginning of the month.


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