(Redirected from Perihelion)

Apsis (Greek: ἀψίς; plural apsides /ˈæpsɪdz/, Greek: ἀψῖδες; "orbit") denotes either of the two extreme points (i.e., the farthest or nearest point) in the orbit of a planetary body about its primary body (or simply, "the primary"). The plural term, "apsides," usually implies both apsis points (i.e., farthest and nearest); apsides can also refer to the distance of the extreme range of an object orbiting a host body. For example, the apsides of Earth's orbit of the Sun are two: the apsis for Earth's farthest point from the Sun, dubbed the aphelion; and the apsis for Earth's nearest point, the perihelion (see top figure). (The term "apsis", a cognate with apse, comes via Latin from Greek).[1]

There are two apsides in any elliptic orbit. Each is named by selecting the appropriate prefix: ap-, apo- (from ἀπ(ό), (ap(o)-), meaning 'away from'), or peri- (from περί (peri-), meaning 'near')—then joining it to the reference suffix of the "host" body being orbited. (For example, the reference suffix for Earth is -gee, hence apogee and perigee are the names of the apsides for the Moon, and any other artificial satellites of the Earth. The suffix for the Sun is -helion, hence aphelion and perihelion are the names of the apsides for the Earth and for the Sun's other planets, comets, asteroids, etc., (see table, top figure).)

According to Newton's laws of motion all periodic orbits are ellipses, including: 1) the single orbital ellipse, where the primary body is fixed at one focus point and the planetary body orbits around that focus (see top figure); and 2) the two-body system of interacting elliptic orbits: both bodies orbit their joint center of mass (or barycenter), which is located at a focus point that is common to both ellipses, (see second figure). For such a two-body system, when one mass is sufficiently larger than the other, the smaller ellipse (of the larger body) around the barycenter comprises one of the orbital elements of the larger ellipse (of the smaller body).

The barycenter of the two bodies may lie well within the bigger body—e.g., the Earth–Moon barycenter is about 75% of the way from Earth's center to its surface. If, compared to the larger mass, the smaller mass is negligible (e.g., for satellites), then the orbital parameters are independent of the smaller mass.

When used as a suffix—that is, -apsis—the term can refer to the two distances from the primary body to the orbiting body when the latter is located: 1) at the periapsis point, or 2) at the apoapsis point (compare both graphics, second figure). The line of apsides denotes the distance of the line that joins the nearest and farthest points across an orbit; it also refers simply to the extreme range of an object orbiting a host body (see top figure; see third figure).

In orbital mechanics, the apsides technically refer to the distance measured between the barycenters of the central body and orbiting body. However, in the case of a spacecraft, the terms are commonly used to refer to the orbital altitude of the spacecraft above the surface of the central body (assuming a constant, standard reference radius).



The words "pericenter" and "apocenter" are often seen, although periapsis/apoapsis are preferred in technical usage.


The words perihelion and aphelion were coined by Johannes Kepler[4] to describe the orbital motions of the planets around the Sun. The words are formed from the prefixes peri- (Greek: περί, near) and apo- (Greek: ἀπό, away from), affixed to the Greek word for the sun, (ἥλιος, or hēlíou).[5]

Various related terms are used for other celestial objects. The suffixes -gee, -helion, -astron and -galacticon are frequently used in the astronomical literature when referring to the Earth, Sun, stars, and the galactic center respectively. The suffix -jove is occasionally used for Jupiter, but -saturnium has very rarely been used in the last 50 years for Saturn. The -gee form is also used as a generic closest-approach-to "any planet" term—instead of applying it only to Earth.

During the Apollo program, the terms pericynthion and apocynthion were used when referring to orbiting the Moon; they reference Cynthia, an alternative name for the Greek Moon goddess Artemis.[6] Regarding black holes, the terms perimelasma and apomelasma (from a Greek root) were used by physicist and science-fiction author Geoffrey A. Landis in a 1998 story;[7] which occurred before perinigricon and aponigricon (from Latin) appeared in the scientific literature in 2002,[8] and before peribothron (from Greek bothros, meaning hole or pit) in 2015.[9]

Terminology summary

The suffixes shown below may be added to prefixes peri- or apo- to form unique names of apsides for the orbiting bodies of the indicated host/(primary) system. However, only for the Earth and Sun systems are the unique suffixes commonly used. Typically, for other host systems the generic suffix, -apsis, is used instead.[10][failed verification]

Host objects in the Solar System with named/nameable apsides
Astronomical host object Sun Mercury Venus Earth Moon Mars Ceres Jupiter Saturn
Suffix ‑helion ‑hermion ‑cythe ‑gee ‑lune[3]
‑areion ‑demeter[11] ‑jove ‑chron[3]
of the name
Helios Hermes Cytherean Gaia Luna
Ares Demeter Zeus
Other host objects with named/nameable apsides
Astronomical host
Star Galaxy Barycenter Black hole
Suffix ‑astron ‑galacticon ‑center
of the name
Lat: astra; stars Gr: galaxias; galaxy Gr: melos; black
Gr: bothros; hole
Lat: niger; black

Perihelion and aphelion

The perihelion (q) and aphelion (Q) are the nearest and farthest points respectively of a body's direct orbit around the Sun.

Inner planets and outer planets

The image below-left features the inner planets: their orbits, orbital nodes, and the points of perihelion (green dot) and aphelion (red dot), as seen from above Earth's northern pole and Earth's ecliptic plane, which is coplanar with Earth's orbital plane. From this orientation, the planets are situated outward from the Sun as Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, with all planets travelling their orbits counterclockwise around the Sun. The reference Earth-orbit is colored yellow and represents the orbital plane of reference. For Mercury, Venus, and Mars, the section of orbit tilted above the plane of reference is here shaded blue; the section below the plane is shaded violet/pink.

The image below-right shows the outer planets: the orbits, orbital nodes, and the points of perihelion (green dot) and aphelion (red dot) of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—as seen from above the reference orbital plane, all travelling their orbits counterclockwise. For each planet the section of orbit tilted above the reference orbital plane is colored blue; the section below the plane is violet/pink.

The two orbital nodes are the two end points of the "line of nodes" where a tilted orbit intersects the plane of reference;[13] here they may be 'seen' where the blue section of an orbit becomes violet/pink.

The two images below show the positions of perihelion (q) and the aphelion (Q) in the orbits of the planets of the Solar System.[1]

Lines of apsides

The chart shows the extreme range—from the closest approach (perihelion) to farthest point (aphelion)—of several orbiting celestial bodies of the Solar System: the planets, the known dwarf planets, including Ceres, and Halley's Comet. The length of the horizontal bars correspond to the extreme range of the orbit of the indicated body around the Sun. These extreme distances (between perihelion and aphelion) are the lines of apsides of the orbits of various objects around a host body.

Earth perihelion and aphelion

Currently, the Earth reaches perihelion in early January, approximately 14 days after the December solstice. At perihelion, the Earth's center is about 0.98329 astronomical units (AU) or 147,098,070 km (91,402,500 mi) from the Sun's center. In contrast, the Earth reaches aphelion currently in early July, approximately 14 days after the June solstice. The aphelion distance between the Earth's and Sun's centers is currently about 1.01671 AU or 152,097,700 km (94,509,100 mi). Dates change over time due to precession and other orbital factors, which follow cyclical patterns known as Milankovitch cycles. In the short term, the dates of perihelion and aphelion can vary up to 2 days from one year to another.[14] This significant variation is due to the presence of the Moon: while the Earth–Moon barycenter is moving on a stable orbit around the Sun, the position of the Earth's center which is on average about 4,700 kilometres (2,900 mi) from the barycenter, could be shifted in any direction from it—and this affects the timing of the actual closest approach between the Sun's and the Earth's centers (which in turn defines the timing of perihelion in a given year).[15]

Because of the increased distance at aphelion, only 93.55% of the solar radiation from the Sun falls on a given area of land as does at perihelion. However, this fluctuation does not account for the seasons,[16] as it is summer in the northern hemisphere when it is winter in the southern hemisphere and vice versa. Instead, seasons result from the tilt of Earth's axis, which is 23.4 degrees away from perpendicular to the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun. Winter falls on the hemisphere where sunlight strikes least directly, and summer falls where sunlight strikes most directly, regardless of the Earth's distance from the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, summer occurs at the same time as aphelion. Despite this, there are larger land masses in the northern hemisphere, which are easier to heat than the seas. Consequently, summers are 2.3 °C (4 °F) warmer in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere under similar conditions.[17] Astronomers commonly express the timing of perihelion relative to the vernal equinox[disambiguation needed ] not in terms of days and hours, but rather as an angle of orbital displacement, the so-called longitude of the periapsis (also called longitude of the pericenter). For the orbit of the Earth, this is called the longitude of perihelion, and in 2000 it was about 282.895°; by the year 2010, this had advanced by a small fraction of a degree to about 283.067°.[18]

For the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, the time of apsis is often expressed in terms of a time relative to seasons, since this determines the contribution of the elliptical orbit to seasonal variations. The variation of the seasons is primarily controlled by the annual cycle of the elevation angle of the Sun, which is a result of the tilt of the axis of the Earth measured from the plane of the ecliptic. The Earth's eccentricity and other orbital elements are not constant, but vary slowly due to the perturbing effects of the planets and other objects in the solar system (Milankovitch cycles). On a very long time scale, the dates of the perihelion and of the aphelion progress through the seasons, and they make one complete cycle in 22,000 to 26,000 years. There is a corresponding movement of the position of the stars as seen from Earth that is called the apsidal precession. (This is closely related to the precession of the axes.) The dates and times of the perihelions and aphelions for several past and future years are listed in the following table:[19]

Year Perihelion Aphelion
Date Time (UT) Date Time (UT)
2010 January 3 00:09 July 6 11:30
2011 January 3 18:32 July 4 14:54
2012 January 5 00:32 July 5 03:32
2013 January 2 04:38 July 5 14:44
2014 January 4 11:59 July 4 00:13
2015 January 4 06:36 July 6 19:40
2016 January 2 22:49 July 4 16:24
2017 January 4 14:18 July 3 20:11
2018 January 3 05:35 July 6 16:47
2019 January 3 05:20 July 4 22:11
2020 January 5 07:48 July 4 11:35
2021 January 2 13:51 July 5 22:27
2022 January 4 06:55 July 4 07:11
2023 January 4 16:17 July 6 20:07
2024 January 3 00:39 July 5 05:06
2025 January 4 13:28 July 3 19:55
2026 January 3 17:16 July 6 17:31
2027 January 3 02:33 July 5 05:06
2028 January 5 12:28 July 3 22:18
2029 January 2 18:13 July 6 05:12

Other planets

The following table shows the distances of the planets and dwarf planets from the Sun at their perihelion and aphelion.[20]

Type of body Body Distance from Sun at perihelion Distance from Sun at aphelion
Planet Mercury 46,001,009 km (28,583,702 mi) 69,817,445 km (43,382,549 mi)
Venus 107,476,170 km (66,782,600 mi) 108,942,780 km (67,693,910 mi)
Earth 147,098,291 km (91,402,640 mi) 152,098,233 km (94,509,460 mi)
Mars 206,655,215 km (128,409,597 mi) 249,232,432 km (154,865,853 mi)
Jupiter 740,679,835 km (460,237,112 mi) 816,001,807 km (507,040,016 mi)
Saturn 1,349,823,615 km (838,741,509 mi) 1,503,509,229 km (934,237,322 mi)
Uranus 2,734,998,229 km (1.699449110×109 mi) 3,006,318,143 km (1.868039489×109 mi)
Neptune 4,459,753,056 km (2.771162073×109 mi) 4,537,039,826 km (2.819185846×109 mi)
Dwarf planet Ceres 380,951,528 km (236,712,305 mi) 446,428,973 km (277,398,103 mi)
Pluto 4,436,756,954 km (2.756872958×109 mi) 7,376,124,302 km (4.583311152×109 mi)
Haumea 5,157,623,774 km (3.204798834×109 mi) 7,706,399,149 km (4.788534427×109 mi)
Makemake 5,671,928,586 km (3.524373028×109 mi) 7,894,762,625 km (4.905578065×109 mi)
Eris 5,765,732,799 km (3.582660263×109 mi) 14,594,512,904 km (9.068609883×109 mi)

Mathematical formulae

These formulae characterize the pericenter and apocenter of an orbit:

Maximum speed, \({\textstyle v_{\text{per}}={\sqrt {\frac {(1+e)\mu }{(1-e)a}}}\,}\), at minimum (pericenter) distance, \({\textstyle r_{\text{per}}=(1-e)a}\).
Minimum speed, \({\textstyle v_{\text{ap}}={\sqrt {\frac {(1-e)\mu }{(1+e)a}}}\,}\), at maximum (apocenter) distance, \({\textstyle r_{\text{ap}}=(1+e)a}\).

While, in accordance with Kepler's laws of planetary motion (based on the conservation of angular momentum) and the conservation of energy, these two quantities are constant for a given orbit:

Specific relative angular momentum
\({\displaystyle h={\sqrt {\left(1-e^{2}\right)\mu a}}}\)
Specific orbital energy
\({\displaystyle \varepsilon =-{\frac {\mu }{2a}}}\)


Note that for conversion from heights above the surface to distances between an orbit and its primary, the radius of the central body has to be added, and conversely.

The arithmetic mean of the two limiting distances is the length of the semi-major axis a. The geometric mean of the two distances is the length of the semi-minor axis b.

The geometric mean of the two limiting speeds is

\({\displaystyle {\sqrt {-2\varepsilon }}={\sqrt {\frac {\mu }{a}}}}\)

which is the speed of a body in a circular orbit whose radius is \({\displaystyle a}\).

See also


  1. ^ a b "the definition of apsis" . Dictionary.com.
  2. ^ Since the Sun, Ἥλιος in Greek, begins with a vowel (H is considered a vowel in Greek), the final o in "apo" is omitted from the prefix. =The pronunciation "Ap-helion" is given in many dictionaries [1], pronouncing the "p" and "h" in separate syllables. However, the pronunciation /əˈfliən/ [2] is also common (e.g., McGraw Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, 5th edition, 1994, p. 114), since in late Greek, 'p' from ἀπό followed by the 'h' from ἥλιος becomes phi; thus, the Greek word is αφήλιον. (see, for example, Walker, John, A Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names, Townsend Young 1859 [3], page 26.) Many [4] dictionaries give both pronunciations
  3. ^ a b c d "Basics of Space Flight" . NASA. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  4. ^ Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1965. (Archived version )
  5. ^ Since the Sun, Ἥλιος in Greek, begins with a vowel, H is the long e vowel in Greek, the final o in "apo" is omitted from the prefix. The pronunciation "Ap-helion" is given in many dictionaries [5], pronouncing the "p" and "h" in separate syllables. However, the pronunciation /əˈfliən/ [6] is also common (e.g., McGraw Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, 5th edition, 1994, p. 114), since in late Greek, 'p' from ἀπό followed by the 'h' from ἥλιος becomes phi; thus, the Greek word is αφήλιον. (see, for example, Walker, John, A Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names, Townsend Young 1859 [7], page 26.) Many [8] dictionaries give both pronunciations
  6. ^ "Apollo 15 Mission Report" . Glossary. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
  7. ^ Perimelasma , by Geoffrey Landis, first published in Asimov's Science Fiction, January 1998, republished at Infinity Plus
  8. ^ R. Schödel, T. Ott, R. Genzel, R. Hofmann, M. Lehnert, A. Eckart, N. Mouawad, T. Alexander, M. J. Reid, R. Lenzen, M. Hartung, F. Lacombe, D. Rouan, E. Gendron, G. Rousset, A.-M. Lagrange, W. Brandner, N. Ageorges, C. Lidman, A. F. M. Moorwood, J. Spyromilio, N. Hubin, K. M. Menten (17 October 2002). "A star in a 15.2-year orbit around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way". Nature. 419: 694–696. arXiv:astro-ph/0210426 . Bibcode:2002Natur.419..694S . doi:10.1038/nature01121 . PMID 12384690 .CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ Koberlein, Brian (2015-03-29). "Peribothron – Star makes closest approach to a black hole" . briankoberlein.com. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  10. ^ "MAVEN » Science Orbit" .
  11. ^ "Dawn Journal: 11 Years in Space" . www.planetary.org.
  12. ^ https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009JGRA..114.3215C/abstract
  13. ^ Darling, David. "line of nodes" . The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  14. ^ "Perihelion, Aphelion and the Solstices" . timeanddate.com. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  15. ^ "Variation in Times of Perihelion and Aphelion" . Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory. 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  16. ^ "Solar System Exploration: Science & Technology: Science Features: Weather, Weather, Everywhere?" . NASA. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  17. ^ "Earth at Aphelion" . Space Weather. July 2008. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  18. ^ "Data.GISS: Earth's Orbital Parameters" . data.giss.nasa.gov.
  19. ^ Espenak, Fred. "Earth at Perihelion and Aphelion: 2001 to 2050" . astropixels. Retrieved 2019-12-24.
  20. ^ "NASA planetary comparison chart" . Archived from the original on 2016-08-04. Retrieved 2016-08-04.

External links

Categories: Orbits

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