AskDefine | Define libration

Dictionary Definition

libration n : (astronomy) a real or apparent slow oscillation of a moon or satellite; "the libration of the moon"

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin librare, to sway or swing.


  1. The act of librating.
  2. The apparent wobble or variation in the visible side of the Moon that permanently faces the Earth, allowing observers on Earth to see, over a period of time, slightly more than half of the lunar surface.
  3. In the context of "by extension": A similar rotational or orbital characteristic of some other celestial body.

Extensive Definition

In astronomy libration (from the Latin verb libro -are "to balance, to sway", cf. libra "scales") refers to the various orbital conditions which make it possible to see more than 50% of the moon's surface over time, even though the front of the Moon is tidally locked to always face towards the earth. By extension, libration can also be used to describe the same phenomenon for other orbital bodies that are nominally locked to present the same face. As the orbital processes are repetitive, libration is manifested as a slow rocking back and forth (or up and down) of the face of the orbital body as viewed from the parent body, much like the rocking of a pair of scales about the point of balance.
In the specific case of the Moon's librations, this motion permits a terrestrial observer to see slightly differing halves of the Moon's surface at different times. This means that a total of 59% of the Moon's surface can be observed from Earth.
There are three types of libration:
  • Libration in longitude is a consequence of the Moon's orbit around Earth being somewhat eccentric, so that the Moon's rotation sometimes leads and sometimes lags its orbital position.
  • Libration in latitude is a consequence of the Moon's axis of rotation being slightly inclined to the normal to the plane of its orbit around Earth. Its origin is analogous to the way in which the seasons arise from Earth's revolution about the Sun.
  • Diurnal libration is a small daily oscillation due to the Earth's rotation, which carries an observer first to one side and then to the other side of the straight line joining Earth's center to the Moon's center, allowing the observer to look first around one side of the Moon and then around the other.


External links

libration in Catalan: Libració
libration in Czech: Librace
libration in Danish: Libration
libration in German: Libration
libration in Spanish: Libración
libration in Esperanto: Balancado de Luno
libration in Persian: لیبراسیون ماه
libration in French: Libration
libration in Croatian: Libracija
libration in Indonesian: Librasi
libration in Italian: Librazione
libration in Lithuanian: Libracija
libration in Dutch: Libratie
libration in Japanese: 秤動
libration in Piemontese: Librassion dla Lun-a
libration in Polish: Libracja
libration in Russian: Либрация
libration in Slovak: Librácia
libration in Finnish: Libraatio
libration in Chinese: 天秤動
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