Retrograde motion is in the direction opposite to the movement of something else, and is the contrary of direct or prograde motion. This motion can refer to the orbit of one body about another body or about some other point, or to the rotation of a single body about its axis, or other orbital parameters such as precession or nutation of the axis. In reference to celestial systems, retrograde motion usually means motion which is contrary to the rotation of the primary, that is, the object which forms the system's hub.
Formation of celestial systems
When a galaxy or a planetary system forms, its material takes the shape of a disk. Most of the material orbits and rotates in one direction. This uniformity of motion is due to the collapse of a gas cloud. The nature of the collapse is explained by the principle called conservation of angular momentum. In 2010 the discovery of several hot jupiters with backward orbits called into question the theories about the formation of planetary systems.
A celestial object's inclination indicates whether the object's orbit is direct or retrograde. The inclination of a celestial object is the angle between its orbital plane and another reference frame such as the equatorial plane of the object's primary. In our solar system, inclination of the planets is often measured from the ecliptic plane, which is the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun. The inclination of moons is measured from the equator of the planet they orbit. An object with an inclination between -90 and +90 degrees is orbiting or revolving in the same direction as the primary is rotating. An object with an inclination of exactly 90 degrees has a perpendicular orbit which is neither direct nor retrograde. An object with an inclination beyond 90 degrees up to 270 degrees is in a retrograde orbit.
A celestial object's axial tilt indicates whether the object's rotation is direct or retrograde. Axial tilt is the angle between an object's rotation axis and a line perpendicular to its orbital plane passing through the object's center. An object with an axial tilt up to 90 degrees is rotating in the same direction as its primary. An object with an axial tilt of exactly 90 degrees has a perpendicular rotation which is neither direct nor retrograde. An object with an axial tilt beyond 90 degrees up to 270 degrees has a retrograde rotation relative to its orbital direction.
Earth and the planets
All eight planets in our solar system orbit the sun in the direction that the sun is rotating, which is counterclockwise when viewed from above the Earth's north pole. Six of the planets also rotate in this same direction. The exceptions—the planets with retrograde rotation—are Venus and Uranus. Venus's axial tilt is 177 degrees, which means it is spinning almost exactly in the opposite direction to its orbit.
Moons and rings
If formed in the gravity-field of a planet as the planet is forming, a moon will orbit the planet in the same direction as the planet is rotating. If an object is formed elsewhere and later captured into orbit by a planet's gravity, it will be captured into a retrograde or prograde orbit depending on whether it first approaches the side of the planet that is rotating towards or away from it. The retrograde orbits of a planet's satellites are said to be irregular. Prograde orbits are said to be regular.
In our solar system, many of the asteroid-sized moons have retrograde orbits whereas all the large moons except Triton (the largest of Neptune's moons), have prograde orbits. The particles in Saturn's Phoebe ring are thought to have a retrograde orbit because they originate from the irregular moon Phoebe.
Within the Hill sphere, the region of stability for retrograde orbits at a large distance from the primary is larger than the region for prograde orbits at a large distance from the primary. This was thought to explain the preponderance of retrograde moons around Jupiter, however Saturn has a more even mix of retrograde/prograde moons so the reasons are more complicated.
Asteroids, comets, and Kuiper belt objects
Astronomers have discovered some exoplanets with retrograde orbits. WASP-17b is the first exoplanet that was discovered to be orbiting its star opposite to the direction the star is rotating. HAT-P-7b also has a retrograde orbit. The retrograde motion may be the result of gravitational interactions with other celestial bodies (See Kozai mechanism.) or a collision with another planet. It has been found that several hot jupiters have backward orbits and this calls into question the theories about the formation of planetary systems. By combining new observations with the old data it was found that more than half of all the hot Jupiters studied have orbits that are misaligned with the rotation axis of their parent stars, and six exoplanets in this study have retrograde motion.
Stars with a retrograde orbit are more likely to be found in the galactic halo than in the galactic disk. The Milky Way's outer halo has many globular clusters with a retrograde orbit and with a retrograde or zero rotation. The halo consists of two distinct components. The stars in the inner halo mostly have prograde orbits around the galaxy, while stars in the outer halo favour retrograde orbits.
The center of a spiral galaxy is at least one supermassive black hole. A prograde black hole spins in the same direction as its disk. A retrograde black hole spins in the opposite direction to the disk. A retrograde black hole spews jets that are much more powerful than the jets from a prograde black hole, which may have no jet at all. The retrograde black hole shoots more powerful jets because the gap between it and the inner edge of its disk is greater than the gap between the prograde black hole and the inner edge of its disk. The greater gap is presumed to provide more room for the build-up of the magnetic fields which fuel the jets. (This presumption is known as the "Reynold's conjecture" after the theoretical astrophysicist Chris Reynolds of the University of Maryland, College Park.)
A galaxy called Complex H, which was orbiting the Milky Way in a retrograde direction relative to the Milky Way's rotation, is colliding with the Milky Way.
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