A rotation is a movement of an object in a circular motion. A two-dimensional object rotates around a center (or point) of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates around a line called an axis. If the axis of rotation is within the body, the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin—which implies relative speed and perhaps free-movement with angular momentum. A circular motion about an external point, e.g. the Earth about the Sun, is called an orbit or more properly an orbital revolution.
Mathematically, a rotation is, unlike a translation, a rigid body movement which keeps a point fixed. This definition applies to rotations within both two and three dimensions (in a plane and in space, respectively.) A rotation in three-dimensional space keeps an entire line fixed, i.e. a rotation in three-dimensional space is a rotation around an axis. This follows from Euler's rotation theorem.
All rigid body movements are rotations, translations, or combinations of the two.
If a rotation around a point or axis is followed by a second rotation around the same point/axis, a third rotation results. The reverse (inverse) of a rotation is also a rotation. Thus, the rotations around a point/axis form a group. However, a rotation around a point or axis and a rotation around a different point/axis may result in something other than a rotation, e.g. a translation.
Rotations around the x, y and z axes are called principal rotations. Rotation around any axis can be performed by taking a rotation around the x axis, followed by a rotation around the y axis, and followed by a rotation around the z axis. That is to say, any spatial rotation can be decomposed into a combination of principal rotations.
In astronomy, rotation is a commonly observed phenomenon. Stars, planets and similar bodies all spin around on their axes (the plural of axis). The rotation rate of planets in the solar system was first measured by tracking visual features. Stellar rotation is measured through Doppler shift or by tracking active surface features.
This rotation induces a centrifugal acceleration in the reference frame of the Earth which slightly counteracts the effect of gravity the closer one is to the equator. One effect is that an object weighs slightly less at the equator. Another is that the Earth is slightly deformed into an oblate spheroid.
Another consequence of the rotation of a planet is the phenomenon of precession. Like a gyroscope, the overall effect is a slight "wobble" in the movement of the axis of a planet. Currently the tilt of the Earth's axis to its orbital plane (obliquity of the ecliptic) is 23.45 degrees, but this angle changes slowly (over thousands of years). (See also Precession of the equinoxes and Pole star.)
While revolution is often used as a synonym for rotation, in many fields, particularly astronomy and related fields, revolution, often referred to as orbital revolution for clarity, is used when one body moves around another while rotation is used to mean the movement around an axis. Moons revolve around their planet, planets revolve about their star (such as the Earth around the Sun); and stars slowly revolve about their galaxial center. The motion of the components of galaxies is complex, but it usually includes a rotation component.
The Moon makes one complete rotation during one complete orbital revolution around the Earth (an effect called tidal locking) so that the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth (the other side is called the far side of the Moon).
Most planets in our solar system, including Earth, spin in the same direction as they orbit the Sun. The exceptions are Venus and Uranus. Uranus rotates nearly on its side relative to its orbit. Current speculation is that Uranus started off with a typical prograde orientation and was knocked on its side by a large impact early in its history. Venus may be thought of as rotating slowly backwards (or being "upside down"). The dwarf planet Pluto (formerly considered a planet) is anomalous in this and other ways.
The speed of rotation is given by the angular frequency (rad/s) or frequency (turns/s, turns/min), or period (seconds, days, etc.). The time-rate of change of angular frequency is angular acceleration (rad/s²), This change is caused by torque. The ratio of the two (how heavy is it to start, stop, or otherwise change rotation) is given by the moment of inertia.
The angular velocity vector also describes the direction of the axis of rotation. Similarly the torque is a vector.
In flight dynamics, the principal rotations are known as pitch, roll and yaw. The term rotation is also used in aviation to refer to the upward pitch (nose moves up) of an aircraft, particularly when starting the climb after takeoff.