AskDefine | Define perihelion

Dictionary Definition

perihelion n : periapsis in solar orbit; the point in the orbit of a planet or comet where it is nearest to the sun [ant: aphelion] [also: perihelia (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The point in the elliptical orbit of a planet or comet etc where it is nearest to the sun


point where the planet or comet is nearest to the sun
  • Croatian: perihel
  • Finnish: periheli
  • German: Perihel
  • Swedish: perihelion

Extensive Definition

In astronomy, an apsis, plural apsides () is the point of greatest or least distance of the elliptical orbit of an astronomical object from its center of attraction, which is generally the center of mass of the system. The point of closest approach is called the periapsis or pericentre and the point of farthest excursion is called the apoapsis (Greek από, from, which becomes απ before a vowel, and αφ before rough breathing), apocentre or apapsis (the latter term, although etymologically more correct, is much less used). A straight line drawn through the periapsis and apoapsis is the line of apsides. This is the major axis of the ellipse, the line through the longest part of the ellipse.
Related terms are used to identify the body being orbited. The most common are perigee and apogee, referring to orbits around the Earth, and perihelion and aphelion, referring to orbits around the Sun (Greek ‘ήλιος hēlios sun). During the Apollo program, the terms pericynthion and apocynthion were used when referring to the moon.


These formulae characterize the periapsis and apoapsis of an orbit:
  • Periapsis: maximum speed v_\mathrm = \sqrt \, at minimum (periapsis) distance r_\mathrm=(1-e)a\!\,
  • Apoapsis: minimum speed v_\mathrm = \sqrt \, at maximum (apoapsis) distance r_\mathrm=(1+e)a\!\,
while, in accordance with Kepler's laws of planetary motion (conservation of angular momentum) and the conservation of energy, these quantities are constant for a given orbit:
Note that for conversion from heights above the surface to distances between an orbit and its primary, the radius of the central body has to be added, and conversely.
The arithmetic mean of the two limiting distances is the length of the semi-major axis a\!\,. The geometric mean of the two distances is the length of the semi-minor axis b\!\,.
The geometric mean of the two limiting speeds is \sqrt, the speed corresponding to a kinetic energy which, at any position of the orbit, added to the existing kinetic energy, would allow the orbiting body to escape (the square root of the product of the two speeds is the local escape velocity).


The words "pericentre" and "apocentre" are occasionally seen, although periapsis/apoapsis are preferred in technical usage.
Various related terms are used for other celestial objects. The '-gee', '-helion' and '-astron' and '-galacticon' forms are frequently used in the astronomical literature, while the other listed forms are occasionally used, although '-saturnium' has very rarely been used in the last 50 years. The '-gee' form is commonly (although incorrectly) used as a generic 'closest approach to planet' term instead of specifically applying to the Earth. The term peri/apomelasma (from the Greek root) was used by physicist Geoffrey A. Landis in 1998 before peri/aponigricon (from the Latin) appeared in the scientific literature in 2002 .
Since "peri" and "apo" are Greek, it is considered by some purists more correct to use the Greek form for the body, giving forms such as '-zene' for Jupiter and '-krone' for Saturn. The daunting prospect of having to maintain a different word for every orbitable body in the solar system (and beyond) is the main reason why the generic '-apsis' has become the almost universal norm.
  • In the Moon's case, in practice all three forms are used, albeit very infrequently. The '-cynthion' form is, according to some, reserved for artificial bodies, whilst others reserve '-lune' for an object launched from the Moon and '-cynthion' for an object launched from elsewhere. The '-cynthion' form was the version used in the Apollo Project, following a NASA decision in 1964.
  • For Venus, the form '-cytherion' is derived from the commonly used adjective 'cytherean'; the alternate form '-krition' (from Kritias, an older name for Aphrodite) has also been suggested.
  • For Jupiter, the '-jove' form is occasionally used by astronomers whilst the '-zene' form is never used, like the other pure Greek forms ('-areion' (Mars), '-hermion' (Mercury), '-krone' (Saturn), '-uranion' (Uranus), '-poseidion' (Neptune) and '-hadion' (Pluto)).

Earth's perihelion and aphelion

The Earth is closest to the Sun in early January and farthest in early July. The relation between perihelion, aphelion and the Earth's seasons changes over a 21,000 year cycle. This anomalistic precession contributes to periodic climate change (see Milankovitch cycles).
The day and hour of these events for the next few years are:

See also

Notes and references

External links

perihelion in Tosk Albanian: Apsis (Astronomie)
perihelion in Arabic: أوج (فلك)
perihelion in Bengali: অপদূরবিন্দু
perihelion in Bosnian: Periapsis
perihelion in Bulgarian: Апсида (астрономия)
perihelion in Catalan: Àpside
perihelion in Czech: Apsida (astronomie)
perihelion in German: Apsis (Astronomie)
perihelion in Modern Greek (1453-): Αφήλιο
perihelion in Spanish: Apoastro
perihelion in Esperanto: Apsido
perihelion in French: Périapside
perihelion in Korean: 장축단
perihelion in Croatian: Periapsis
perihelion in Italian: Apside
perihelion in Hebrew: אפהליון ופריהליון
perihelion in Kazakh: Афелий
perihelion in Latvian: Apsīda
perihelion in Lithuanian: Apsidė (astronomija)
perihelion in Hungarian: Apszispont
perihelion in Japanese: 近点・遠点
perihelion in Norwegian: Apsis (astronomi)
perihelion in Norwegian Nynorsk: Perihel
perihelion in Low German: Apsis (Astronomie)
perihelion in Polish: Perycentrum
perihelion in Russian: Апоцентр и перицентр
perihelion in Simple English: Aphelion
perihelion in Slovak: Apsida (astronómia)
perihelion in Slovenian: Apsidna točka
perihelion in Finnish: Apogeum
perihelion in Tamil: சுற்றுப்பாதை வீச்சு
perihelion in Thai: จุดปลายระยะทางวงโคจร
perihelion in Vietnamese: Củng điểm quỹ đạo
perihelion in Ukrainian: Перицентр та Апоцентр
perihelion in Chinese: 拱點
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