The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft recorded several stunning photos of Earth throughout a gravity... <+> aid swingby the its residence planet on Aug. 2, 2005. Number of hundred images, taken v the wide-angle camera in MESSENGER"s Mercury double Imaging system (MDIS), to be sequenced into a movie documenting the see from MESSENGER together it departed Earth. However, the amount of time it takes the earth to rotate 360 degrees isn"t 24 hours, and that"s no what a work is, anyway.

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NASA / Messenger mission
among the very an initial clocks ever developed by Christiaan Huygens, which operated on the principles... <+> that a fixed-period pendulum. The clock tho survives today, and also can be uncovered in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Although it keeps time an extremely accurately, it"s not quite correct come state the 24 hours marks a true solar day, nor is every day the same.

Hansmuller / Wikimedia Commons

However, 24 hours is just the length of one earth day on average; in reality, many days space either much longer or shorter.


Although it takes earth 23 hours and also 56 minutes and also 4.09 secs to turn 360 degrees on that axis,... <+> the earth is also in activity with respect come the Sun. If we need that the sunlight reach the same (longitudinal) point in the sky from one day to the next, we have to account because that the Earth"s motion as well.

NASA / expedition 7

A day isn"tthe time that takes earth to turn 360°,which leaves us 3 minutes and also 55.91 secs short.


The planet in orbit approximately the Sun, v its rotational axis shown. All worlds in our solar system... <+> have seasons determined by either their axial tilt, the ellipticity of your orbits, or a combination of both. This factors additionally determine the variations in the length of a day, and variations in sunrise/sunset times. Keep in mind that the planet needs to revolve a small bit extra 보다 360 degrees in stimulate to check out the sunlight reach the same obvious location native day to day.

Wikimedia commons user Tauʻolunga
Earth"s and Mars" orbits, come scale, as viewed from the Solar System"s north direction. Each planet... <+> sweeps out an same amount the area in equal times, in accordance with Kepler"s second law, fan to the conservation of angular momentum. This means that there will certainly be sports in how quickly the Sun appears to move through the skies throughout the year, as viewed from any planet"s annual perspective.

Wikimedia Commons user Areong

We needthe sunlight to return to its vault day"s position, and that requiresaccounting for Earth"s motion through space.


To take trip once approximately Earth"s orbit in a path about the sunlight is a trip of 940 million kilometers.... <+> The extra 3 million kilometers that planet travels v space, per day, ensures the rotating by 360 degrees on our axis won"t restore the sun to the exact same relative position in the skies from day come day. This is why our work is much longer than 23 hours and 56 minutes, i m sorry is the time required to turn a full 360 degrees.

Larry McNish in ~ RASC Calgary center

Owing to its transformation around the Sun, the planet must rotate roughly 361° to mark a solar day.


over the course of a 365-day year, the Sun appears to relocate not just up-and-down in the sky, as... <+> figured out by ours axial tilt, however ahead-and-behind, as established by our elliptical orbit approximately the Sun. Once both results are combined, the pinched figure-8 that outcomes is well-known as an analemma. The sunlight images shown here room a selected 52 photographs indigenous César Cantú"s observations in Mexico over the food of a calendar year.

César Cantú / AstroColors
The effect of our orbit"s elliptical nature (left) and our axial tilt (middle) ~ above the Sun"s position... <+> in the sky combine to develop the analemma shape (right) that us observe from world Earth.

Autodesk generated image via the UK

But Earth"s orbital rate isn"t uniform: it"s faster near perihelion (early January) and also slower close to aphelion (early July).


The concept of universal gravitation can explain the it was observed orbits that the planets, v Kepler"s... <+> 2nd law gift derivable native that: the planets orbiting the sunlight sweep the end equal areas in same times. Note that this method when planet is at perihelion (closest to the Sun), that moves more quickly, while when it"s in ~ aphelion (farthest indigenous the Sun) it moves much more slowly.

Wikimedia Commons users RJHall and also Talifero
The planets relocate in the orbits that they do, stably, due to the fact that of the preservation of angular... <+> momentum. Through no method to gain or lose angular momentum, they continue to be in your elliptical orbits arbitrarily far into the future. The earth makes the closest approach to the sun every January 3rd or so, while it"s most far-off in early on July.

NASA / JPL
The equation of time is identified by both the shape of a planet"s orbit and its axial tilt, together well... <+> as exactly how they align. During the months nearest the June solstice (when the planet nears aphelion, that farthest place from the Sun), it move the most slowly, and that’s why this section of the analemma is pinched, when the December solstice, occurring near perihelion, is elongated. Note that wherein the equation the time has a derivative of zero, observers at that latitude will see a 24 hour day.

Wikimedia Commons user Rob cook
as the earth rotates ~ above its axis and also orbits the sun in one ellipse, the Sun"s evident position... <+> appears to adjust from day-to-day in this details shape: Earth"s analemma. The tilt the the analemma will certainly correspond to the moment of day in ~ which the photo is taken, while the height over the horizon will depend on your latitude. However, this shape is constantly reproduced from planet if you take it a photo at the exact same time the every day.

Giuseppe Donatiello / flickr
simply 800 year ago, perihelion and the winter solstice aligned. Because of the precession the Earth"s... <+> orbit, they are slowly drifting apart, completing a full cycle every 21,000 years. 5,000 year from now, the spring equinox and also the Earth"s closest approach to the sun will coincide. This is a small, subtle effect that creates one more minor exit from 24 hours being the precise length of a day, yet it"s negligible when contrasted to Earth"s rotational activity on the axis and its orbit motion roughly the Sun.

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Greg Benson at Wikimedia Commons
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I am a Ph.D. Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, that professes physics and also astronomy at various colleges. I have won many awards for science writing

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I am a Ph.D. Astrophysicist, author, and also science communicator, who professes physics and also astronomy at various colleges. I have won countless awards for science writing because 2008 for my blog, Starts v A Bang, including the award for finest science blog by the institute of Physics. My 2 books, Treknology: The science of Star Trek native Tricorders come Warp Drive, past the Galaxy: just how humanity looked past our Milky means and uncovered the whole Universe, are accessible for acquisition at Amazon. Monitor me ~ above Twitter