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Orbital eccentricity

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An elliptic, parabolic, and hyperbolic Kepler orbit:   elliptic (eccentricity = 0.7)   parabolic (eccentricity = 1)   hyperbolic orbit (eccentricity = 1.3)
An elliptic, parabolic, and hyperbolic Kepler orbit:
  elliptic (eccentricity = 0.7)
  parabolic (eccentricity = 1)
  hyperbolic orbit (eccentricity = 1.3)

The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical object is a dimensionless parameter that determines the amount by which its orbit around another body deviates from a perfect circle. A value of 0 is a circular orbit, values between 0 and 1 form an elliptic orbit, 1 is a parabolic escape orbit, and greater than 1 is a hyperbola. The term derives its name from the parameters of conic sections, as every Kepler orbit is a conic section. It is normally used for the isolated two-body problem, but extensions exist for objects following a Klemperer rosette orbit through the galaxy.

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  • ✪ Astronomy: Eccentricity of Orbits
  • ✪ Teach Astronomy - Orbit Eccentricity
  • ✪ Astronomy - Ch. 7: The Solar Sys - Comparative Planetology (15 of 33) Planet Orbital Eccentricity


In 1609, Johannes Kepler published Astronomia Nova, a book containing ten years of his efforts to understand the orbit of the planet Mars. He was using state-of-the-art astronomical observations from his mentor and employer, Tycho Brahe, who was famous for generating an enormous amount of high-quality data, and he needed to find the best explanation for the motions of Mars - a very tricky problem! There were three models of the solar system out there at the time, but none of them worked very well for Mars. First, the Ptolemaic system put the Earth at the center, with the Sun and planets orbiting it in perfect circles. There was also Copernicus’s heliocentric model, which set the Earth among the planets, revolving around the Sun. And finally, Tycho had his own system to propose, which combined aspects of both: he put the Earth at the center with the Sun and moon orbiting it, but let the other planets orbit the Sun. All three systems relied upon circular orbits, because the circle was accepted as an ideal shape. Copernicus, Tycho, and Galileo all believed that planets should travel along circular paths, but the data just didn’t fit. Instead, Kepler found that another shape, the ellipse, works a lot better. An ellipse is sort of like a flattened circle, and it has some special properties. You can draw one by taking a loose string... ...attaching both ends to the paper, and using a pencil to keep the string taught while moving all the way around the perimeter... The result is an ellipse! The length of the string never changed, meaning that the sum of the distances between each endpoint, or focus, and any point on the ellipse is constant. In Astronomia Nova, Kepler states that Mars travels in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, which is at one of the foci of the orbit. Later on, he expanded this first law to include all of the planets and demonstrated that this shape fit the available observations. The further apart the two foci are, the longer and skinnier the ellipse, and this “skinniness” parameter is called “eccentricity.” Comets can have very eccentric orbits, coming in quite close to the Sun before traveling back to the outer reaches of the solar system. On the other hand, In a perfect circle, the two foci would lie right on top of each other right at the center. The orbits of the planets in our solar system are not very eccentric at all. They’re really very close to circular, which is partly why perfectly round orbits seemed like a natural thing to expect in the first place. It wasn’t easy to abandon a central idea like that, but with his first law of planetary motion, Kepler rejected circular orbits and showed that an ellipse could better explain the observed motions of Mars. Generalized to all planets, it states that the orbit of a planet follows an ellipse with the Sun at one focus.



Orbits in a two-body system for two values of the eccentricity, e. (NB: + is barycentre)

In a two-body problem with inverse-square-law force, every orbit is a Kepler orbit. The eccentricity of this Kepler orbit is a non-negative number that defines its shape.

The eccentricity may take the following values:

The eccentricity e is given by

where E is the total orbital energy, L is the angular momentum, mred is the reduced mass, and α the coefficient of the inverse-square law central force such as gravity or electrostatics in classical physics:

(α is negative for an attractive force, positive for a repulsive one; see also Kepler problem)

or in the case of a gravitational force:

where ε is the specific orbital energy (total energy divided by the reduced mass), μ the standard gravitational parameter based on the total mass, and h the specific relative angular momentum (angular momentum divided by the reduced mass).

For values of e from 0 to 1 the orbit's shape is an increasingly elongated (or flatter) ellipse; for values of e from 1 to infinity the orbit is a hyperbola branch making a total turn of 2 arccsc e, decreasing from 180 to 0 degrees. The limit case between an ellipse and a hyperbola, when e equals 1, is parabola.

Radial trajectories are classified as elliptic, parabolic, or hyperbolic based on the energy of the orbit, not the eccentricity. Radial orbits have zero angular momentum and hence eccentricity equal to one. Keeping the energy constant and reducing the angular momentum, elliptic, parabolic, and hyperbolic orbits each tend to the corresponding type of radial trajectory while e tends to 1 (or in the parabolic case, remains 1).

For a repulsive force only the hyperbolic trajectory, including the radial version, is applicable.

For elliptical orbits, a simple proof shows that arcsin() yields the projection angle of a perfect circle to an ellipse of eccentricity e. For example, to view the eccentricity of the planet Mercury (e = 0.2056), one must simply calculate the inverse sine to find the projection angle of 11.86 degrees. Next, tilt any circular object (such as a coffee mug viewed from the top) by that angle and the apparent ellipse projected to your eye will be of that same eccentricity.


The word "eccentricity" comes from Medieval Latin eccentricus, derived from Greek ἔκκεντρος ekkentros "out of the center", from ἐκ- ek-, "out of" + κέντρον kentron "center". "Eccentric" first appeared in English in 1551, with the definition "a circle in which the earth, sun. etc. deviates from its center".[citation needed] By five years later, in 1556, an adjectival form of the word had developed.


The eccentricity of an orbit can be calculated from the orbital state vectors as the magnitude of the eccentricity vector:


For elliptical orbits it can also be calculated from the periapsis and apoapsis since rp = a(1 − e) and ra = a(1 + e), where a is the semimajor axis.


The eccentricity of an elliptical orbit can also be used to obtain the ratio of the periapsis to the apoapsis:

For Earth, orbital eccentricity ≈ 0.0167, apoapsis= aphelion and periapsis= perihelion relative to sun.

For Earth's annual orbit path, ra/rp ratio = longest_radius / shortest_radius ≈ 1.034 relative to center point of path.


Gravity Simulator plot of the changing orbital eccentricity of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars over the next 50000 years. The arrows indicate the different scales used. The 0 point on this plot is the year 2007.
Gravity Simulator plot of the changing orbital eccentricity of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars over the next 50000 years. The arrows indicate the different scales used. The 0 point on this plot is the year 2007.
Eccentricities of Solar System bodies
Object eccentricity
Triton 0.00002
Venus 0.0068
Neptune 0.0086
Earth 0.0167
Titan 0.0288
Uranus 0.0472
Jupiter 0.0484
Saturn 0.0541
Moon 0.0549
1 Ceres 0.0758
4 Vesta 0.0887
Mars 0.0934
10 Hygiea 0.1146
Makemake 0.1559
Haumea 0.1887
Mercury 0.2056
2 Pallas 0.2313
Pluto 0.2488
3 Juno 0.2555
324 Bamberga 0.3400
Eris 0.4407
Nereid 0.7507
Sedna 0.8549
Halley's Comet 0.9671
Comet Hale-Bopp 0.9951
Comet Ikeya-Seki 0.9999
C/1980 E1 1.057
ʻOumuamua 1.20[a]

The eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is currently about 0.0167; the Earth's orbit is nearly circular. Venus and Neptune have even lower eccentricities. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit varies from nearly 0.0034 to almost 0.058 as a result of gravitational attractions among the planets (see graph).[1]

The table lists the values for all planets and dwarf planets, and selected asteroid, comets and moons. Mercury has the greatest orbital eccentricity of any planet in the Solar System (e = 0.2056). Such eccentricity is sufficient for Mercury to receive twice as much solar irradiation at perihelion compared to aphelion. Before its demotion from planet status in 2006, Pluto was considered to be the planet with the most eccentric orbit (e = 0.248). Other Trans-Neptunian objects have significant eccentricity, notably the dwarf planet Eris (0.44). Even further out, Sedna, has an extremely high eccentricity of 0.855 due to its estimated aphelion of 937 AU and perihelion of about 76 AU.

Most of the Solar System's asteroids have orbital eccentricities between 0 and 0.35 with an average value of 0.17.[2] Their comparatively high eccentricities are probably due to the influence of Jupiter and to past collisions.

The Moon's value is 0.0549, the most eccentric of the large moons of the Solar System. The four Galilean moons have eccentricity < 0.01. Neptune's largest moon Triton has an eccentricity of 1.6×10−5 (0.000016),[3] the smallest eccentricity of any known moon in the Solar System;[citation needed] its orbit is as close to a perfect circle as can be currently[when?] measured. However, smaller moons, particularly irregular moons, can have significant eccentricity, such as Neptune's third largest moon Nereid (0.75).

Comets have very different values of eccentricity. Periodic comets have eccentricities mostly between 0.2 and 0.7,[4] but some of them have highly eccentric elliptical orbits with eccentricities just below 1, for example, Halley's Comet has a value of 0.967. Non-periodic comets follow near-parabolic orbits and thus have eccentricities even closer to 1. Examples include Comet Hale–Bopp with a value of 0.995[5] and comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) with a value of 1.000019.[6] As Hale–Bopp's value is less than 1, its orbit is elliptical and it will return.[5] Comet McNaught has a hyperbolic orbit while within the influence of the planets, but is still bound to the Sun with an orbital period of about 105 years.[7] As of a 2010 Epoch, Comet C/1980 E1 has the largest eccentricity of any known hyperbolic comet with an eccentricity of 1.057,[8] and will leave the Solar System eventually.

ʻOumuamua is the first interstellar object found passing through the Solar System. Its orbital eccentricity of 1.20 indicates that ʻOumuamua has never been gravitationally bound to our sun. It was discovered 0.2 AU (30,000,000 km; 19,000,000 mi) from Earth and is roughly 200 meters in diameter. It has an interstellar speed (velocity at infinity) of 26.33 km/s (58,900 mph).

Mean eccentricity

The mean eccentricity of an object is the average eccentricity as a result of perturbations over a given time period. Neptune currently has an instant (current epoch) eccentricity of 0.0113,[9] but from 1800 to 2050 has a mean eccentricity of 0.00859.[10]

Climatic effect

Orbital mechanics require that the duration of the seasons be proportional to the area of the Earth's orbit swept between the solstices and equinoxes, so when the orbital eccentricity is extreme, the seasons that occur on the far side of the orbit (aphelion) can be substantially longer in duration. Today, northern hemisphere fall and winter occur at closest approach (perihelion), when the earth is moving at its maximum velocity—while the opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere. As a result, in the northern hemisphere, fall and winter are slightly shorter than spring and summer—but in global terms this is balanced with them being longer below the equator. In 2006, the northern hemisphere summer was 4.66 days longer than winter, and spring was 2.9 days longer than fall due to the Milankovitch cycles.[11][12]

Apsidal precession also slowly changes the place in the Earth's orbit where the solstices and equinoxes occur. Note that this is a slow change in the orbit of the Earth, not the axis of rotation, which is referred to as axial precession (see Precession § Astronomy). Over the next 10,000 years, the northern hemisphere winters will become gradually longer and summers will become shorter. However, any cooling effect in one hemisphere is balanced by warming in the other, and any overall change will be counteracted by the fact that the eccentricity of Earth's orbit will be almost halved.[13] This will reduce the mean orbital radius and raise temperatures in both hemispheres closer to the mid-interglacial peak.


Of the many exoplanets discovered, most have a higher orbital eccentricity than planets in our solar system. Exoplanets found with low orbital eccentricity, near circular orbits, are very close to their star and are tidally locked to the star. All eight planets in the Solar System have near-circular orbits. The exoplanets discovered show that the solar system, with its unusually low eccentricity, is rare and unique.[14] One theory attributes this low eccentricity to the high number of planets in the Solar System; another suggests it arose because of its unique asteroid belts. A few other multiplanetary systems have been found, but none resemble the Solar System. The Solar System has unique planetesimal systems, which led the planets to have near-circular orbits. Solar planetesimal systems include the asteroid belt, Hilda family, Kuiper belt, Hills cloud, and the Oort cloud. The exoplanet systems discovered have either no planetesimal systems or one very large one. Low eccentricity is needed for habitability, especially advanced life.[15] High multiplicity planet systems are much more likely to have habitable exoplanets.[16][17] The grand tack hypothesis of the Solar System also helps understand its near-circular orbits and other unique features.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

See also


  1. ^ ʻOumuamua was never bound to the Sun.


  1. ^ A. Berger & M.F. Loutre (1991). "Graph of the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit". Illinois State Museum (Insolation values for the climate of the last 10 million years). Archived from the original on 6 January 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  2. ^ Asteroids Archived 4 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ David R. Williams (22 January 2008). "Neptunian Satellite Fact Sheet". NASA. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  4. ^ Lewis, John (2 December 2012). Physics and Chemistry of the Solar System. Academic Press. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp)" (2007-10-22 last obs). Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  6. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: C/2006 P1 (McNaught)" (2007-07-11 last obs). Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) - facts and figures". Perth Observatory in Australia. 22 January 2007. Archived from the original on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  8. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: C/1980 E1 (Bowell)" (1986-12-02 last obs). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  9. ^ Williams, David R. (29 November 2007). "Neptune Fact Sheet". NASA. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  10. ^ "Keplerian elements for 1800 A.D. to 2050 A.D." JPL Solar System Dynamics. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  11. ^ Data from United States Naval Observatory
  12. ^ Berger A.; Loutre M.F.; Mélice J.L. (2006). "Equatorial insolation: from precession harmonics to eccentricity frequencies" (PDF). Clim. Past Discuss. 2 (4): 519–533. doi:10.5194/cpd-2-519-2006.
  13. ^ Arizona U., Long Term Climate
  14. ^, ORBITAL ECCENTRICITES, by G.Marcy, P.Butler, D.Fischer, S.Vogt, 20 Sept 2003
  15. ^ Ward, Peter; Brownlee, Donald (2000). Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Springer. pp. 122–123. ISBN 0-387-98701-0.
  16. ^ Limbach, MA; Turner, EL. "Exoplanet orbital eccentricity: multiplicity relation and the Solar System". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112: 20–4. arXiv:1404.2552. Bibcode:2015PNAS..112...20L. doi:10.1073/pnas.1406545111. PMC 4291657. PMID 25512527.
  17. ^ Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Planetesimals in Debris Disks, by Andrew N. Youdin and George H. Rieke, 2015
  18. ^ Zubritsky, Elizabeth. "Jupiter's Youthful Travels Redefined Solar System". NASA. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  19. ^ Sanders, Ray. "How Did Jupiter Shape Our Solar System?". Universe Today. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  20. ^ Choi, Charles Q. "Jupiter's 'Smashing' Migration May Explain Our Oddball Solar System". Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  21. ^ Davidsson, Dr. Björn J. R. "Mysteries of the asteroid belt". The History of the Solar System. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  22. ^ Raymond, Sean. "The Grand Tack". PlanetPlanet. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  23. ^ O'Brien, David P.; Walsh, Kevin J.; Morbidelli, Alessandro; Raymond, Sean N.; Mandell, Avi M. (2014). "Water delivery and giant impacts in the 'Grand Tack' scenario". Icarus. 239: 74–84. arXiv:1407.3290. Bibcode:2014Icar..239...74O. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2014.05.009.
  24. ^ Loeb, Abraham; Batista, Rafael; Sloan, David (August 2016). "Relative Likelihood for Life as a Function of Cosmic Time". Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. arXiv:1606.08448. Bibcode:2016JCAP...08..040L. doi:10.1088/1475-7516/2016/08/040.
  25. ^ "Is Earthly Life Premature from a Cosmic Perspective?". Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 1 August 2016.

Further reading

  • Prussing, John E.; Conway, Bruce A. (1993). Orbital Mechanics. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507834-9.

External links

This page was last edited on 15 July 2019, at 21:52
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