Orbital pole


The north orbital poles of the Solar System planets all lie within Draco. The central yellow dot represents the Sun's north pole. Jupiter's north orbital pole is colored orange, Mercury's pale blue, Venus's green, Earth's blue, Mars's red, Saturn's magenta, Uranus's grey, and Neptune's lavender. That of the dwarf planet Pluto is shown as the dotless cross off in Cepheus.

An orbital pole is either point at the ends of an imaginary line segment that runs through the center of an orbit (of a revolving body like a planet) 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.

The north orbital pole of a revolving body is defined by the right-hand rule. If the fingers of the right hand are curved along the direction of orbital motion, with the thumb extended and oriented to be parallel to the orbital axis, then the direction the thumb points is defined to be the orbital north.

The poles of Earth's orbit are referred to as the ecliptic poles. For the remaining planets, the orbital pole in ecliptic coordinates is given by the longitude of the ascending node (☊) and inclination (i): l = ☊ - 90°, b = 90° - i.

Object [1] i[1] l b RA Dec
Mercury 48.331° 7.005° 318.331° 82.995° 18 h 43 m 57.1 s +61° 26′ 52″
Venus 76.678° 3.395° 346.678° 86.605° 18 h 32 m 1.8 s +65° 34′ 1″
Earth [a]140° 0.0001° [a]50° 89.9999° 18 h 0 m 0 s +66° 33′ 38.84″
Mars 49.562° 1.850° 319.562° 88.150° 18 h 13 m 29.7 s +65° 19′ 22″
Ceres 80.494° 10.583° 350.494° 79.417° 19 h 33 m 33.1 s +62° 50′ 57″
Jupiter 100.492° 1.305° 10.492° 88.695° 18 h 13 m 0.8 s +66° 45′ 53″
Saturn 113.643° 2.485° 23.643° 87.515° 18 h 23 m 46.8 s +67° 26′ 55″
Uranus 73.989° 0.773° 343.989° 89.227° 18 h 7 m 24.1 s +66° 20′ 12″
Neptune 131.794° 1.768° 41.794° 88.232° 18 h 13 m 54.1 s +67° 42′ 8″
Pluto 110.287° 17.151° 20.287° 72.849° 20 h 56 m 3.7 s +66° 32′ 31″

Ecliptic Pole

The ecliptic is the plane on which Earth orbits the Sun. The ecliptic poles are the two points where the ecliptic axis, the imaginary line perpendicular to the ecliptic, intersects the celestial sphere.

The two ecliptic poles are mapped below.

North ecliptic pole.png
The north ecliptic pole is in Draco.
South ecliptic pole.png
The south ecliptic pole is in Dorado.

Due to axial precession, either celestial pole completes a circuit around the nearer ecliptic pole every 25,800 years.

As of 1 January 2000, the positions of the ecliptic poles expressed in equatorial coordinates, as a consequence of Earth's axial tilt, are the following:

  • North: right ascension 18h 0m 0.0s (exact), declination +66° 33′ 38.55″
  • South: right ascension 6h 0m 0.0s (exact), declination −66° 33′ 38.55″

It is impossible anywhere for either ecliptic pole to be at the zenith in the night sky. By definition, the ecliptic poles are located 90° from the Sun's position. Therefore, whenever and wherever either ecliptic pole is directly overhead, the Sun must be on the horizon. The ecliptic poles can contact the zenith only within the Arctic and Antarctic circles.

The galactic coordinates of the North ecliptic pole can be calculated as l = 96.38°, b = 29.81° (see Celestial coordinate system).

See also

Notes & References

  1. ^ a b When inclination is very near 0, the location of nodes is somewhat uncertain, and is less useful to orient the orbit. Likewise when latitude is very near a pole (±90°), the longitude is less certain or useful.
  1. ^ a b Data from "HORIZONS Web-Interface". JPL Solar System Dynamics. NASA. Retrieved 2020-09-01. Used “Ephemeris Type: Orbital Elements”, “Time Span: discrete time=2451545”, “Center: Sun (body center)”, and selected each object's barycenter. Results are instantaneous osculating values at the precise J2000 epoch, and referenced to the ecliptic.