Orbital node

Last updated
The ascending node is one of several orbital elements. Orbit1.svg
The ascending node is one of several orbital elements.

An orbital node is either of the two points where an orbit intersects a plane of reference to which it is inclined. [1] A non-inclined orbit, which is contained in the reference plane, has no nodes.


Planes of reference

Common planes of reference include the following:

Node distinction

Animation about nodes of two elliptic trajectories. (Click on image.) Planet orbit nodes 2 animation.gif
Animation about nodes of two elliptic trajectories. (Click on image.)

If a reference direction from one side of the plane of reference to the other is defined, the two nodes can be distinguished. For geocentric and heliocentric orbits, the ascending node (or north node) is where the orbiting object moves north through the plane of reference, and the descending node (or south node) is where it moves south through the plane. [4] In the case of objects outside the Solar System, the ascending node is the node where the orbiting secondary passes away from the observer, and the descending node is the node where it moves towards the observer. [5] , p. 137.

The position of the node may be used as one of a set of parameters, called orbital elements , which describe the orbit. This is done by specifying the longitude of the ascending node (or, sometimes, the longitude of the node.)

The line of nodes is the intersection of the object's orbital plane with the plane of reference. It passes through the two nodes. [2]

Symbols and nomenclature

The symbol of the ascending node is Ascending node (fixed width).svg (Unicode: U+260A, ☊), and the symbol of the descending node is Descending node (fixed width).svg (Unicode: U+260B, ☋). In medieval and early modern times the ascending and descending nodes were called the "dragon's head" (Latin: caput draconis, Arabic: ra's al-jauzahar) and "dragon's tail" (Latin : cauda draconis), respectively. [6] :p.141, [7] :p.245 These terms originally referred to the times when the Moon crossed the apparent path of the sun in the sky. Also, corruptions of the Arabic term such as ganzaar, genzahar, geuzaar and zeuzahar were used in the medieval West to denote either of the nodes. [8] :pp.196–197, [9] :p.65, [10] :pp.95–96 The Greek terms αναβιβάζων and καταβιβάζων were also used for the ascending and descending nodes, giving rise to the English words anabibazon and catabibazon. [11] [12] : ¶27

Lunar nodes

For the orbit of the Moon around Earth, the plane is taken to be the ecliptic, not the equatorial plane. The gravitational pull of the Sun upon the Moon causes its nodes to gradually precess westward, completing a cycle in approximately 18.6 years. [1] [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ecliptic Apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere

The ecliptic is the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun. From the perspective of an observer on Earth, the Sun's movement around the celestial sphere over the course of a year traces out a path along the ecliptic against the background of stars. The ecliptic is an important reference plane and is the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system.

Celestial sphere Imaginary sphere of arbitrarily large radius, concentric with the observer

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.

Equatorial coordinate system Celestial coordinate system used to specify the positions of celestial objects

The equatorial coordinate system is a celestial coordinate system widely used to specify the positions of celestial objects. It may be implemented in spherical or rectangular coordinates, both defined by an origin at the centre of Earth, a fundamental plane consisting of the projection of Earth's equator onto the celestial sphere, a primary direction towards the vernal equinox, and a right-handed convention.

Ecliptic coordinate system Celestial coordinate system used for representing the positions of Solar System objects

The ecliptic coordinate system is a celestial coordinate system commonly used for representing the apparent positions, orbits, and pole orientations of Solar System objects. Because most planets and many small Solar System bodies have orbits with only slight inclinations to the ecliptic, using it as the fundamental plane is convenient. The system's origin can be the center of either the Sun or Earth, its primary direction is towards the vernal (March) equinox, and it has a right-hand convention. It may be implemented in spherical or rectangular coordinates.

Orbital inclination Angle between a reference plane and the plane of an orbit

Orbital inclination measures the tilt of an object's orbit around a celestial body. It is expressed as the angle between a reference plane and the orbital plane or axis of direction of the orbiting object.

Lunar node Where the orbit of the Moon intersects the Earths ecliptic

A lunar node is either of the two orbital nodes of the Moon, that is, the two points at which the orbit of the Moon intersects the ecliptic. The ascending node is where the Moon moves into the northern ecliptic hemisphere, while the descending node is where the Moon enters the southern ecliptic hemisphere.

A geocentric orbit or Earth orbit involves any object orbiting Earth, such as the Moon or artificial satellites. In 1997, NASA estimated there were approximately 2,465 artificial satellite payloads orbiting Earth and 6,216 pieces of space debris as tracked by the Goddard Space Flight Center. More than 16,291 objects previously launched have undergone orbital decay and entered Earth's atmosphere.

Longitude of the ascending node Defining the orbit of an object in space

The longitude of the ascending node is one of the orbital elements used to specify the orbit of an object in space. It is the angle from a specified reference direction, called the origin of longitude, to the direction of the ascending node, as measured in a specified reference plane. The ascending node is the point where the orbit of the object passes through the plane of reference, as seen in the adjacent image. Commonly used reference planes and origins of longitude include:

Argument of periapsis Specifies the orbit of an object in space

The argument of periapsis, symbolized as ω, is one of the orbital elements of an orbiting body. Parametrically, ω is the angle from the body's ascending node to its periapsis, measured in the direction of motion.

Mean longitude is the ecliptic longitude at which an orbiting body could be found if its orbit were circular and free of perturbations. While nominally a simple longitude, in practice the mean longitude does not correspond to any one physical angle.

A non-inclined orbit is an orbit coplanar with a plane of reference. The orbital inclination is 0° for prograde orbits, and π (180°) for retrograde ones. If the plane of reference is a massive spheroid body's equatorial plane, these orbits are called equatorial; if the plane of reference is the ecliptic plane, they are called ecliptic.

Orbital pole Celestial coordinate system

An orbital pole is either point at the ends of an imaginary line segment that runs through the center of an orbit and is perpendicular to the orbital plane. Projected onto the celestial sphere, orbital poles are similar in concept to celestial poles, but are based on the body's orbit instead of its equator.

A lunar standstill is the gradually varying range between the northern and the southern limits of the Moon's declination, or the lunistices, over the course of one-half of a sidereal month. A lunar standstill occurs every 18.6 years due to the precessional cycle of the lunar nodes at that rate, alternating between major and minor. During a minor lunar standstill, tidal forces are increased, leading to increased amplitude of tides and tidal flooding.

Earth-centered, Earth-fixed coordinate system Earth-centered, Earth-fixed reference frame

The Earth-centered, Earth-fixed coordinate system is a geographic and Cartesian coordinate system. It represents positions as X, Y, and Z coordinates. The origin is defined as the center of mass of Earth, hence the term geocentric Cartesian coordinates.

Orbit of the Moon The Moons circuit around the Earth

The Moon orbits Earth in the prograde direction and completes one revolution relative to the Vernal Equinox and 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 barycentre, which lies about 4,670 km (2,900 mi) from Earth's center, forming a satellite system called the Earth–Moon system. 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 or 1.282 light-seconds.

Earth-centered inertial Coordinate frames

Earth-centered inertial (ECI) coordinate frames have their origins at the center of mass of Earth and are fixed with respect to the stars. "I" in "ECI" stands for inertial, in contrast to the "Earth-centered - Earth-fixed" (ECEF) frames, which remains fixed with respect to Earth's surface in its rotation, and then rotates with respect to stars.

This glossary of astronomy is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to astronomy and cosmology, their sub-disciplines, and related fields. Astronomy is concerned with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth. The field of astronomy features an extensive vocabulary and a significant amount of jargon.

Opposition (astronomy)

In positional astronomy, two astronomical objects are said to be in opposition when they are on opposite sides of the celestial sphere, as observed from a given body.

Astronomical nutation is a phenomenon which causes the orientation of the axis of rotation of a spinning astronomical object to vary over time. It is caused by the gravitational forces of other nearby bodies acting upon the spinning object. Although they are caused by the same effect operating over different timescales, astronomers usually make a distinction between precession, which is a steady long-term change in the axis of rotation, and nutation, which is the combined effect of similar shorter-term variations.


  1. 1 2 "node". Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 2004. Archived from the original on March 9, 2007. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 Darling, David. "line of nodes". The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  3. Tatum, Jeremy B. "Chapter 17". Celestial Mechanics. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  4. ascending node, entry in The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight, David Darling, on line, accessed May 17, 2007.
  5. The Binary Stars, R. G. Aitken, New York: Semi-Centennial Publications of the University of California, 1918.
  6. Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables, E. S. Kennedy , Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new series, 46, #2 (1956), pp. 123177.
  7. Cyclopædia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences Archived 2008-12-02 at the Wayback Machine , Ephraim Chambers, London: Printed for J. and J. Knapton [and 18 others], 1728, vol. 1.
  8. Planetary Latitudes, the Theorica Gerardi, and Regiomontanus, Claudia Kren, Isis, 68, #2 (June 1977), pp. 194205.
  9. Prophatius Judaeus and the Medieval Astronomical Tables, Richard I. Harper, Isis62, #1 (Spring, 1971), pp. 6168.
  10. Lexicographical Gleanings from the Philobiblon of Richard de Bury, Andrew F. West, Transactions of the American Philological Association (1869-1896), 22 (1891), pp. 93104.
  11. anabibazon, entry in Webster's third new international dictionary of the English language unabridged: with seven language dictionary, Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1986. ISBN   0-85229-503-0.
  12. New thoughts on the genesis of the mysteries of Mithras [ permanent dead link ], Roger Beck, Topoi11, #1 (2001), pp. 5976.
  13. Marcia Rieke. "Introduction: Coordinates, Seasons, Eclipses (lecture notes)". Astronomy 250. University of Arizona . Retrieved May 17, 2007.