In astrodynamics, under standard assumptions any orbit must be of conic section shape. The eccentricity of this conic section, the orbit's eccentricity, is an important parameter of the orbit that defines its absolute shape. Eccentricity may be interpreted as a measure of how much this shape deviates from a circle.
For example, the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit today is 0.0167. Through time, the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit slowly changes from nearly 0 to almost 0.05 as a result of gravitational attractions between the planets (see graph  (http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/ice_ages/eccentricity_graph.html)).
Other values: Pluto 0.2488 (largest value among the planets of the Solar System), Mercury 0.2056, Moon 0.0554. For the values for all planets in one table, see de:Planet (Tabelle).
The eccentricity is a measure of the departure of this ellipse from circularity.
As the eccentricity of the orbit evolves, the semi-major axis of the orbital ellipse remains unchanged.
This orbital precession is in the opposite sense to the gyroscopic motion of the axis of rotation, shortening the period of the precession of the equinoxes with respect to the perihelion from 26,000 to 20,000 years.
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