How is the Plane of the Solar System oriented to the Sun's motion through space: parallel, perpendicular, or some other angle?

  • $\begingroup$ It is important to note that motion is frame-dependent, making this question a lot more ambiguous than one might naively suspect. $\endgroup$ – Danu Apr 12 '14 at 10:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the downvote is harsh. There's an obvious interpretation of the motion as discussed in my answer. It's an interesting question and one that had never occurred to me. It turns out the direction of motion seems oddly aligned with various major features of the universe - see the article I've linked for more details. Anyhow, +1 from me and ignore the downvoters! $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Apr 12 '14 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ Have a look at this tallbloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/… which describes the motion with respect to the galaxy $\endgroup$ – anna v Apr 12 '14 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie Well there is at least one other obvious interpretation, as has partially been answered already: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/2582/the-galactic-plane $\endgroup$ – user10851 Apr 12 '14 at 17:34

Surprisingly it's quite easy to answer this because we can use the cosmic microwave background as a reference. The CMB gives us an average inertial frame for the universe so our motion relative to it is the closest we can come to defining the Solar System's motion through space.

The CMB is isotropic, but because we are moving relative to it the radiation is blue shifted in our direction of motion and red shifted in the opposite direction. This creates the CMB dipole anisotropy - for more detail see this paper on the Arxiv.

So we just need to find the angle relative to the ecliptic where the CMB is hottest. After much scribbling and head-scratching I gave up and resorted to Google, which immediately found this article (NB it's a PDF) that does the calculation for me. The result is that we are moving at about 10° to the plane of the Solar System.


Chris White points out the question The Galactic Plane that points out the tilt of the ecliptic relative to the Milky Way is 60°. The paper by Kogut et al gives the direction of the CMB dipole maximum relative to the Milky Way, so if you know the galactic longitude of the Solar System you should be able to calculate the angle of the dipole maximum from Earth (i.e. the 10° angle mentioned above). It was after trying and failing to do this I resorted to Google :-)

| cite | improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.