Can the words rotation and orbit be used interchangeably?

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electreto05's profile pic

electreto05 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Although it is common to use both concepts interchangeably, there are actually differences between them. The two concepts describe a curvilinear movement where the body returns to its starting position after a fixed time, called period. Some times we talk about the rotation of the earth around the sun, when it is right to talk about the orbit of the earth around the sun.

A rotation is a type of motion in which a body makes a rotation around an axis, called the axis of rotation. It is characterized because all the points on the body maintain a constant distance from the axis. For example, the earth performs a movement of rotation around an axis and this is the reason that the days and nights happen.

Moreover, an orbit is a path described by a body around another, due to a central force, such as the force of gravity. Generally the trajectory of an orbit is elliptical; so that the distance between the orbiting body and the central body is not constant during the movement. Because of the gravitational interaction with the sun, the earth describes an elliptical path around it. The change in the distance between the sun and Earth during its orbital movement is the cause of the seasons.

ntpeters's profile pic

ntpeters | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

The quickest answer to this question is no, the terms cannot be used synonymously.  When discussing celestial bodies, these to movements are actually quite different.  A body that rotates, spins on its imaginary axis, while a body that orbits moves on a set path around another object.   For example, the Earth rotates on its axis, but the moon orbits the Earth.  

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