Axial tilt

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In astronomy, axial tilt (also called obliquity) is the angle between an object's rotational axis, and a line perpendicular to its orbital plane. It differs from inclination.

To measure obliquity, use the right hand grip rule for both the rotation and the orbital motion, i.e.: the line from the vertex at the object's centre to its north pole (above which the object appears to rotate counter-clockwise); and the line drawn from the vertex in the direction of the normal to its orbital plane, (above which the object moves counter-clockwise in its orbit). At zero degrees, these lines point in the same direction.

The planet Venus has an axial tilt of 177.3° because it is rotating in retrograde direction, opposite to other planets like Earth. The north pole of Venus is pointed 'downward' (our southward). The planet Uranus is rotating on its side in such a way that its rotational axis, and hence its north pole, is pointed almost in the direction of its orbit around the Sun. Hence the axial tilt of Uranus is 97°.[1]

Over the course of an orbit, while the angle of the axial tilt doesn't change, the orientation of a planet's axial tilt moves through 360 degrees (one complete orbit around the Sun), relative to the Sun, causing the seasons.



In the Earth's solar system, the Earth's orbital plane is known as the ecliptic plane, and so the Earth's axial tilt is officially called the obliquity of the ecliptic. Greek letter ε.

The Earth currently has an axial tilt of about 23.4°.[2] The axis remains tilted in the same direction towards the stars throughout a year and this means that when a hemisphere (a northern or southern half of the earth) is pointing away from the Sun at one point in the orbit then half an orbit later (half a year later) this hemisphere will be pointing towards the Sun. This effect is the main cause of the seasons (see effect of sun angle on climate). Whichever hemisphere is currently tilted toward the Sun experiences more hours of sunlight each day, and the sunlight at midday also strikes the ground at an angle nearer the vertical and thus delivers more energy per unit surface area.

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