Inferior and superior planets

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The planets whose orbits lie within the orbits of Earth are called Inferior planets whereas the planets whose orbits lie outside the orbit of Earth are called superior planets. The terms "inferior planet" and "superior planet" were originally used in the geocentric cosmology of Claudius Ptolemy to differentiate as 'inferior' those planets (Mercury and Venus) whose epicycle remained collinear with the Earth and Sun, compared to the 'superior' planets (Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) that did not.[1]

In the 16th century, the terms were modified by Copernicus, who rejected Ptolemy's geocentric model, to distinguish a planet's orbit's size in relation to the Earth's.[2]

  • "Inferior planet" is used in reference to Mercury and Venus, which are closer to the Sun than the Earth is.
  • "Superior planet" is used in reference to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, (and later additions Uranus and Neptune), which are farther from the Sun than the Earth is.

The terms are sometimes used more generally: for instance, the Earth is an inferior planet as seen from Mars.

This classification is different from the terms inner and outer planet, which designate those planets which lie inside the asteroid belt and those that lie outside it, respectively. "Inferior planet" is also different from minor planet or dwarf planet.


  1. ^ Lakatos, Imre; Worrall, John; Currie, Gregory (1980). Worrall, John; Currie, Gregory, ed. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Cambridge University Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-521-28031-1. 
  2. ^ Kuhn, Thomas S. (1985). The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought (4th ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-674-17103-9.