Orbital period

The orbital period (also revolution period) is the amount of time a given astronomical object takes to complete one orbit around another object. In astronomy, it usually applies to planets or asteroids orbiting the Sun, moons orbiting planets, exoplanets orbiting other stars, or binary stars.

For celestial objects in general, the sidereal period (sidereal year) is referred to by the orbital period, determined by a 360° revolution of one body around its primary, e.g. Earth around the Sun, relative to the fixed stars projected in the sky. Orbital periods can be defined in several ways. The tropical period is more particularly about the position of the parent star. It is the basis for the solar year, and respectively the calendar year.

The synodic period incorporates not only the orbital relation to the parent star, but also to other celestial objects, making it not a mere different approach to the orbit of an object around its parent, but a period of orbital relations with other objects, normally Earth and their orbits around the Sun. It applies to the elapsed time where planets return to the same kind of phenomena or location, such as when any planet returns between its consecutive observed conjunctions with or oppositions to the Sun. For example, Jupiter has a synodic period of 398.8 days from Earth; thus, Jupiter's opposition occurs once roughly every 13 months.

Periods in astronomy are conveniently expressed in various units of time, often in hours, days, or years. They can be also defined under different specific astronomical definitions that are mostly caused by the small complex external gravitational influences of other celestial objects. Such variations also include the true placement of the centre of gravity between two astronomical bodies (barycenter), perturbations by other planets or bodies, orbital resonance, general relativity, etc. Most are investigated by detailed complex astronomical theories using celestial mechanics using precise positional observations of celestial objects via astrometry.


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