What is the Ecliptic?

The Ecliptic is the path through the stars that the Sun appears to trace every year. When you think of the sky as a big ball surrounding the Earth then the Ecliptic is a circular slice through the center that the Sun follows.

The Earth orbits the Sun as do all the planets and moons. Most of these objects are in orbit so they also appear to follow the ecliptic plane but with slight deviations. The deviation is expressed in terms of degrees. The orbit is described as being inclined to the ecliptic. For example the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is inclined about five degrees relative to the ecliptic.

The point where the orbit of a planet or the Moon crosses the ecliptic (intersects) is called a node. If the intersection is going towards the north then it is considered a rising node. When going towards the south it is a setting node.

EclipticThe moon's orbit is inclined 5 degrees from the ecliptic plane. That is why we do not see a solar eclipse every time there is a new moon. The angular size of the Moon is half a degree. It can miss the Sun by quite a distance.

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