The inclination is one of the six orbital parameters describing the shape and orientation of a celestial orbit. It is the angular distance of the orbital plane from the plane of reference (usually the primary's equator or the ecliptic), normally stated in degrees.
In the Solar System, the inclination of the orbit of a planet is defined as the angle between the plane of the orbit of the planet and the ecliptic — which is the plane containing Earth's orbital path. It could be measured with respect to another plane, such as the Sun's equator or even Jupiter's orbital plane, but the ecliptic is more practical for Earth-bound observers. Most planetary orbits in the Solar System have relatively small inclinations, both in relation to each other and to the Sun's equator. On the other hand, the dwarf planets Pluto and Eris have inclinations to the ecliptic of 17 degrees and 44 degrees respectively, and the large asteroid Pallas is inclined at 34 degrees.
to Sun's equator
to invariable plane
Natural and artificial satellites
The inclination of orbits of natural or artificial satellites is measured relative to the equatorial plane of the body they orbit if they do so close enough. The equatorial plane is the plane perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the central body.
- an inclination of 0 degrees means the orbiting body orbits the planet in its equatorial plane, in the same direction as the planet rotates;
- an inclination greater than −90° and less than 90° is a prograde orbit.
- an inclination greater than 90° and less than 270° is a retrograde orbit.
- an inclination of exactly 90° is a polar orbit, in which the spacecraft passes over the north and south poles of the planet; and
- an inclination of exactly 180° is a retrograde equatorial orbit.
For the Moon, measuring its inclination with respect to Earth's equatorial plane leads to a rapidly varying quantity and it makes more sense[clarification needed] to measure it with respect to the ecliptic (i.e. the plane of the orbit that Earth and Moon track together around the Sun), a fairly constant quantity.
Exoplanets and multiple star systems
- An inclination of 0° is a face-on orbit, meaning the plane of its orbit is parallel to the sky.
- An inclination of 90° is an edge-on orbit, meaning the plane of its orbit is perpendicular to the sky.
Because the radial-velocity method more easily finds planets with orbits closer to edge-on, most exoplanets found by this method have inclinations between 45° and 135°, although in most cases the inclination is not known. Consequently, most exoplanets found by radial velocity have true masses no more than 70% greater than their minimum masses. If the orbit is almost face-on, especially for superjovians detected by radial velocity, then those objects may actually be brown dwarfs or even red dwarfs. One particular example is HD 33636 B, which has true mass 142 MJ, corresponding to an M6V star, while its minimum mass was 9.28 MJ. The inclinations and hence true masses for many exoplanets may eventually be measured by observatories in space, including the Gaia mission, Space Interferometry Mission, and James Webb Space Telescope.
If the orbit is almost edge-on, then the planet can be seen transiting its star.
- For planets and other rotating celestial bodies, the angle of the axis of rotation with respect to the normal to plane of the orbit is sometimes also called inclination or axial inclination, but to avoid ambiguity can be called axial tilt or obliquity.
- In geology, the magnetic inclination is the angle made by a compass needle with respect to the horizontal surface of the Earth at a given latitude.
Mutual inclination of two orbits may be calculated from their inclinations to another plane using cosine rule for angles.
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- Altitude (astronomy)
- Axial tilt
- Beta Angle
- Kepler orbits
- Kozai effect
- Orbital inclination change
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2009)|
- Chobotov, Vladimir A. (2002). Orbital Mechanics (3rd ed.). AIAA. pp. 28–30;. ISBN 1-56347-537-5.
- McBride, Neil; Bland, Philip A.; Gilmour, Iain (2004). An Introduction to the Solar System. Cambridge University Press. p. 248. ISBN 0-521-54620-6.
- "The MeanPlane (Invariable plane) of the Solar System passing through the barycenter". 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2009-04-10. (produced with Solex 10 written by Aldo Vitagliano)