Scientists Say: Orbit

This is the curved path an object takes around a planet, star or moon


This is the International Space Station, which orbits around the Earth.

NASA/Public Domain

Orbit (noun, “OR-bit”)

This is the curved path that an object takes around a star, planet or moon. When an object has made one full trip around, it’s completed a single orbit. Just because it’s going around, though, doesn’t mean that an object’s orbit is a circle. Often, an object’s orbit is a little more oval. This is known as orbital eccentricity.

When scientists send up a probe to orbit a planet, moon or star, that probe is called an orbiter. Other spacecraft may fly by, stay for a very short time to collect information or just go ahead and land on a planet or moon. But an orbiter must be able to enter into an orbit and stay there, which is a pretty big challenge.

The word “orbit” comes from the Latin word “orbita.” That means “the path of a heavenly body.” But orbits don’t have to be heavenly. In physics, we say the negatively-charged electrons of an atom orbit about its center.

In a sentence

There are 12 new moons around Jupiter, and one is an oddball orbiting in the wrong direction.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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