A sidereal year (from Latin sidus "asterism, star") is the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun once with respect to the fixed stars. Hence it is also the time taken for the Sun to return to the same position with respect to the fixed stars after apparently travelling once around the ecliptic. It equals 365.25636 SI days for the J2000.0 epoch.[1]

The sidereal year differs from the tropical year, "the period of time required for the ecliptic longitude of the sun to increase 360 degrees",[2] due to the precession of the equinoxes. The sidereal year is 20 min 24.5 s longer than the mean tropical year at J2000.0 (365.242189 days).[1]

Before the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes by Hipparchus in the Hellenistic period, the difference between sidereal and tropical year was unknown. For naked-eye observation, the shift of the constellations relative to the equinoxes only becomes apparent over centuries or "ages", and pre-modern calendars such as Hesiod's Works and Days would give the times of the year for sowing, harvest, and so on by reference to the first visibility of stars, effectively using the sidereal year.

See also


  1. ^ a b IERS EOP PC Useful constants. An SI day or mean solar day equals 86400 SI seconds. From the mean longitude referred to the mean ecliptic and the equinox J2000 given in Simon, J. L., et al., "Numerical Expressions for Precession Formulae and Mean Elements for the Moon and the Planets" Astronomy and Astrophysics 282 (1994), 663–683.[1]
  2. ^ "Glossary". Astronomical Almanac for the Year 2017. Washington DC and London: US Naval Observatory, HM Nautical Almanac Office. 2016. p. M19.