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Osculating Orbital Elements

Skyfield is able to calculate osculating orbital elements for any Geometric, Barycentric, or Geocentric position with respect to either the ecliptic or equatorial plane. The data produced by Skyfield matches the data produced by JPL’s HORIZONS system.

Generating Elements

Call osculating_elements_of() to generate an OsculatingElements object. For example, here is how to find the osculating elements of the moon orbiting earth:

from skyfield.api import load
from skyfield.elementslib import osculating_elements_of

ts = load.timescale()
t = ts.utc(2018, 4, 22)

planets = load('de421.bsp')
earth = planets['earth']
moon = planets['moon']

position = (moon - earth).at(t)
elements = osculating_elements_of(position)

The elements are then attributes of the Elements object:

i = elements.inclination.degrees
e = elements.eccentricity
a =

print('Inclination: {0:.2f} degrees'.format(i))
print('Eccentricity: {0:.5f}'.format(e))
print('Semimajor axis: {0:.0f} km'.format(a))
Inclination: 20.46 degrees
Eccentricity: 0.03104
Semimajor axis: 380577 km

Note that one element, the periapsis time, is not necessarily a unique value: if an orbit is periodic, then the body will reach periapsis repeatedly at a series of dates which are separated by period_in_days.

print('Periapsis:', elements.periapsis_time.utc_strftime())
print('Period: {0:.2f} days'.format(elements.period_in_days))
Periapsis: 2018-04-20 16:09:42 UTC
Period: 26.88 days

You can add or subtract the period in order to produce a series of equally valid periapsis dates for that set of orbital elements.

next = elements.periapsis_time + elements.period_in_days
print('Next periapsis:', next.utc_strftime())
Next periapsis: 2018-05-17 13:14:56 UTC

Attributes of OsculatingElements objects

Here is a list of the attributes of the Elements object and their types:

OsculatingElements objectElement describing the shape of the orbit:
 ├── eccentricity                → numpy.ndarray
 │   Element describing the tilt of the orbital plane:
 ├── inclination                 → Angle object
 │   Element describing the direction in which the orbital plane is tilted:
 ├── longitude_of_ascending_node → Angle object
 │   Elements describing direction of periapsis:
 ├── argument_of_periapsis       → Angle object
 ├── longitude_of_periapsis      → Angle object
 ├── periapsis_time              → Time object
 │   Elements describing the size of the orbit:
 ├── apoapsis_distance           → Distance object
 ├── mean_motion_per_day         → Angle object
 ├── periapsis_distance          → Distance object
 ├── period_in_days              → numpy.ndarray
 ├── semi_latus_rectum           → Distance object
 ├── semi_major_axis             → Distance object
 ├── semi_minor_axis             → Distance object
 │   Elements describing the secondary's position in the orbit:
 ├── argument_of_latitude        → Angle object
 ├── eccentric_anomaly           → Angle object
 ├── mean_anomaly                → Angle object
 ├── mean_longitude              → Angle object
 ├── true_anomaly                → Angle object
 ├── true_longitude              → Angle object
 ├── (the secondary's position can be implicit in periapsis_time
 │        because at periapsis all anomalies are 0)
 │   Other attributes:
 └── time                        → Time object

To fully define an object’s location and orbit, one element is required from each of the above categories.

Reference Planes

By default the elements() method produces elements using the xy plane of the ICRF as the reference plane. This is equivalent to the J2000.0 equatorial plane within the tolerance of J2000.0. If you instead want elements using the J2000.0 ecliptic as the reference plane, pass it as the second argument:

from import inertial_frames
ecliptic = inertial_frames['ECLIPJ2000']

t = ts.utc(2018, 4, 22, range(0,25))
position = (moon - earth).at(t)
elements = osculating_elements_of(position, ecliptic)