Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Stabilization of the Earth's obliquity by the Moon


ACCORDING to Milankovitch theory1,2, the ice ages are related to variations of insolation in northern latitudes resulting from changes in the Earth's orbital and orientation parameters (precession, eccentricity and obliquity). Here we investigate the stability of the Earth's orientation for all possible values of the initial obliquity, by integrating the equations of precession of the Earth. We find a large chaotic zone which extends from 60° to 90° in obliquity. In its present state, the Earth avoids this chaotic zone and its obliquity is essentially stable, exhibiting only small variations of ± 1.3° around the mean value of 23.3°. But if the Moon were not present, the torque exerted on the Earth would be smaller, and the chaotic zone would then extend from nearly 0° up to about 85°. Thus, had the planet not acquired the Moon, large variations in obliquity resulting from its chaotic behaviour might have driven dramatic changes in climate. In this sense one might consider the Moon to act as a potential climate regulator for the Earth.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Imbrie, J. Icarus 50, 408–422 (1982).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Berger, A., Imbrie, J., Hays, J., Kukla, G. & Saltzman, B. (eds) Milankovitch and Climate (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1984).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Ward, W. R. Icarus 50, 444–448 (1982).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Laskar, J. Icarus 88, 266–291 (1990).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Laskar, J., Froeschlé, C. & Celletti, A. Physica D 56, 253–269 (1992).

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  6. Laskar, J. Physica D (in the press).

  7. Laskar, J., Joutel, F. & Boudin, F. Astr. Astrophys. (in the press).

  8. Williams, G. E. J. Phys. Earth 38, 475–491 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kinoshita, H. Celest. Mech. 15, 277–326 (1977).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Laskar, J. Astr. Astrophys. 157, 59–70 (1986).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Laskar, J. Nature 338, 237–238 (1989).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Laskar, J. in Chaos, Resonance and Collective Dynamical Phenomena in the Solar System (ed. Ferraz-Mello, S.) 1–16 (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Laskar, J., Quinn, T. & Tremaine, S. Icarus 95, 148 (1992).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Sussman, G. & Wisdom, J. Science 257, 56–62 (1992).

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Laskar, J., Joutel, F. & Robutel, P. Stabilization of the Earth's obliquity by the Moon. Nature 361, 615–617 (1993).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing