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A year is the orbital period of the Earth moving in its orbit around the Sun. Due to the Earth's axial tilt, the course of a year sees the passing of the seasons, marked by changes in weather, the hours of daylight, and, consequently, vegetation and soil fertility. In temperate and subpolar regions around the globe, four seasons are generally recognized: spring, summer, autumn and winter. In tropical and subtropical regions several geographical sectors do not present defined seasons; but in the seasonal tropics, the annual wet and dry seasons are recognized and tracked.

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Last Sourced: 2017-08-01
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A year is the orbital period of the Earth moving in its orbit around the Sun. Due to the Earth's axial tilt, the course of a year sees the passing of the seasons, marked by changes in weather, the hours of daylight, and, consequently, vegetation and soil fertility. In temperate and subpolar regions around the globe, four seasons are generally recognized: spring, summer, autumn and winter. In tropical and subtropical regions several geographical sectors do not present defined seasons; but in the seasonal tropics, the annual wet and dry seasons are recognized and tracked.

A calendar year is an approximation of the number of days of the Earth's orbital period as counted in a given calendar. The Gregorian, or modern, calendar, presents its calendar year to be either a common year of 365 days or a leap year of 366 days, as do the Julian calendars; see below. For the Gregorian calendar the average length of the calendar year (the mean year) across the complete leap cycle of 400 years is 365.2425 days. The ISO standard ISO 80000-3, Annex C, supports the symbol "a" (for Latin annus) to represent a year of either 365 or 366 days. In English, the abbreviations "y" and "yr" are commonly used.

In astronomy, the Julian year is a unit of time; it is defined as 365.25 days of exactly 7004864000000000000♠86400 seconds (SI base unit), totalling exactly 7007315576000000000♠31557600 seconds in the Julian astronomical year.

The word "year" is also used for periods loosely associated with, but not identical to, the calendar or astronomical year, such as the seasonal year, the fiscal year, the academic year, etc. Similarly, "year" can mean the orbital period of any planet: for example, a Martian year or a Venusian year are examples of the time a planet takes to transit one complete orbit. The term can also be used in reference to any long period or cycle, such as the Great Year.


English year (via West Saxon ġēar (jɛar), Anglian ġēr) continues Proto-Germanic *jǣran (*jē₁ran). Cognates are German Jahr, Old High German jār, Old Norse ár and Gothic jer, from the Proto-Indo-European noun Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/yeh₁-|*yeh₁r-om "year, season". Cognates also descended from the same Proto-Indo-European noun (with variation in suffix ablaut) are Avestan yārǝ "year", Greek ὥρα "year, season, period of time" (whence "hour"), Old Church Slavonic jarŭ, and Latin hornus "of this year".

Latin annus (a 2nd declension masculine noun; annum is the accusative singular; annī is genitive singular and nominative plural; annō the dative and ablative singular) is from a PIE noun *h₂et-no-, which also yielded Gothic aþn "year" (only the dative plural aþnam is attested).

Both *yeh₁-ro- and *h₂et-no- are based on verbal roots expressing movement, *h₁ey- and *h₂et- respectively, both meaning "to go" generally (compare Vedic Sanskrit éti "goes", atasi "thou goest, wanderest"). Derived from Latin annus are a number of English words, such as annual, annuity, anniversary, etc.; per annum means "each year", anno Domini means "in the year of the Lord".

The Greek word for "year", ἔτος, is cognate with Latin vetus "old", from the PIE word *wetos- "year", also preserved in this meaning in Sanskrit vat-sa-ras "year" and vat-sa- "yearling (calf)", the latter also reflected in Latin vitulus "bull calf", English wether "ram" (Old English weðer, Gothic wiþrus "lamb").

In some languages, it is common to count years by referencing to one season, as in "summers", or "winters", or "harvests". Examples include Chinese 年 "year", originally 秂, an ideographic compound of a person carrying a bundle of wheat denoting "harvest". Slavic besides godŭ "time period; year" uses lěto "summer; year".

Civil year

No astronomical year has an integer number of days or lunar months, so any calendar that follows an astronomical year must have a system of intercalation such as leap years. Financial and scientific calculations often use a 365-day calendar to simplify daily rates.

In the Julian calendar, the average (mean) length of a year is 365.25 days. In a non-leap year, there are 365 days, in a leap year there are 366 days. A leap year occurs every fourth year, or leap year, during which a leap day is intercalated into the month of February. The name "Leap Day" is applied to the added day.

The Gregorian calendar attempts to cause the northward equinox to fall on or shortly before March 21 and hence it follows the northward equinox year, or tropical year. Because 97 out of 400 years are leap years, the mean length of the Gregorian calendar year is 365.2425 days; this is within one ppm of the current length of the mean tropical year (365.24219 days) and even closer to the current March equinox year of 365.242374 days that it aims to match. It is estimated that by the year 4000 CE, the northward equinox will fall back by one day in the Gregorian calendar, not because of this difference, but due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation and the associated lengthening of the day.

The Revised Julian calendar, as used in some Eastern Orthodox Churches, currently does a better job than the Gregorian in synchronizing with the mean tropical year. As 218 out of every 900 years are leap years, the average (mean) length of this Julian year is 7002365242222200000♠365.2422222 days, which is closer to the length of the mean tropical year, 7002365242190000000♠365.24219 days, than is the Gregorian mean year, 365.242 5 days. In the year 2800 CE, the Gregorian and Revised Julian calendars will begin to differ by one calendar day.

A calendar era assigns a cardinal number to each sequential year, using a reference point in the past as the beginning of the era. Worldwide, the most commonly used calendar era is referenced from the traditional—now believed incorrect—year of the birth of Jesus. Dates in this era are designated Anno Domini (Latin for in the year of the Lord), abbreviated AD, or the secular common era, abbreviated CE. The year before 1 AD, or 1 CE, is designated 1 Before Christ (BC), or 1 Before the Common Era (BCE), and the year before that is 2 BC/2 BCE, etc.; hence, there was no year 0 AD/0 CE.

When computations are done involving both years AD and years BC, it is common to use Astronomical year numbering, in which 1 BC is designated 0, 2 BC is designated −1, and so on.

Other eras are also used to enumerate the years in different cultural, religious or scientific contexts.

The Persian calendar, in use in Afghanistan and Iran, has its year begin at the midnight closest to the instant of the northward equinox as determined by astronomical computation (for the time zone of Tehran), as opposed to using an algorithmic system of leap years.

A fiscal year or financial year is a 12-month period used for calculating annual financial statements in businesses and other organizations. In many jurisdictions, regulations regarding accounting require such reports once per twelve months, but do not require that the twelve months constitute a calendar year.

For example, in Canada and India the fiscal year runs from April 1; in the United Kingdom it runs from April 1 for purposes of corporation tax and government financial statements, but from April 6 for purposes of personal taxation and payment of state benefits; in Australia it runs from July 1; while in the United States the fiscal year of the federal government runs from October 1.

An academic year is the annual period during which a student attends an educational institution. The academic year may be divided into academic terms, such as semesters or quarters. The school year in many countries starts in August or September and ends in May, June or July. In Israel the academic year begins around October or November, aligned with the second month of the Hebrew Calendar.

Some schools in the UK and USA divide the academic year into three roughly equal-length terms (called trimesters or quarters in the USA), roughly coinciding with autumn, winter, and spring. At some, a shortened summer session, sometimes considered part of the regular academic year, is attended by students on a voluntary or elective basis. Other schools break the year into two main semesters, a first (typically August through December) and a second semester (January through May). Each of these main semesters may be split in half by mid-term exams, and each of the halves is referred to as a quarter (or term in some countries). There may also be a voluntary summer session and/or a short January session.

Some other schools, including some in the United States, have four marking periods. Some schools in the United States, notably Boston Latin School, may divide the year into five or more marking periods. Some state in defense of this that there is perhaps a positive correlation between report frequency and academic achievement.

There are typically 180 days of teaching each year in schools in the USA, excluding weekends and breaks, while there are 190 days for pupils in state schools in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and 200 for pupils in Australia.

In India the academic year normally starts from June 1 and ends on May 31. Though schools start closing from mid-March, the actual academic closure is on May 31 and in Nepal it starts from July 15.

Schools and universities in Australia typically have academic years that roughly align with the calendar year (i.e., starting in February or March and ending in October to December), as the southern hemisphere experiences summer from December to February.

In the International System of Quantities, the year (symbol, a) is defined as either 365 days or 366 days.

Astronomical years

The Julian year, as used in astronomy and other sciences, is a time unit defined as exactly 365.25 days. This is the normal meaning of the unit "year" (symbol "a" from the Latin annus) used in various scientific contexts. The Julian century of 7004365250000000000♠36525 days and the Julian millennium of 7005365250000000000♠365250 days are used in astronomical calculations. Fundamentally, expressing a time interval in Julian years is a way to precisely specify how many days (not how many "real" years), for long time intervals where stating the number of days would be unwieldy and unintuitive. By convention, the Julian year is used in the computation of the distance covered by a light-year.

In the Unified Code for Units of Measure, the symbol, a (without subscript), always refers to the Julian year, aj, of exactly 7007315576000000000♠31557600 seconds.

The SI multiplier prefixes may be applied to it to form ka (kiloannus), Ma (megaannus), etc.

Each of these three years can be loosely called an astronomical year.

The sidereal year is the time taken for the Earth to complete one revolution of its orbit, as measured against a fixed frame of reference (such as the fixed stars, Latin sidera, singular sidus). Its average duration is 7002365256363004000♠365.256363004 mean solar days (365 d 6 h 9 min 9.76 s) (at the epoch J2000.0 = January 1, 2000, 12:00:00 TT).

Today the mean tropical year is defined as the period of time for the mean ecliptic longitude of the Sun to increase by 360 degrees. Since the Sun's ecliptic longitude is measured with respect to the equinox, the tropical year comprises a complete cycle of the seasons; because of the biological and socio-economic importance of the seasons, the tropical year is the basis of most calendars. The modern definition of mean tropical year differs from the actual time between passages of, e.g., the northward equinox for several reasons explained below. Because of the Earth's axial precession, this year is about 20 minutes shorter than the sidereal year. The mean tropical year is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds, using the modern definition. (= 7002365242190000000♠365.24219 days of 86400 SI seconds)

The anomalistic year is the time taken for the Earth to complete one revolution with respect to its apsides. The orbit of the Earth is elliptical; the extreme points, called apsides, are the perihelion, where the Earth is closest to the Sun (January 3 in 2011), and the aphelion, where the Earth is farthest from the Sun (July 4 in 2011). The anomalistic year is usually defined as the time between perihelion passages. Its average duration is 7002365259636000000♠365.259636 days (365 d 6 h 13 min 52.6 s) (at the epoch J2011.0).

The draconic year, draconitic year, eclipse year, or ecliptic year is the time taken for the Sun (as seen from the Earth) to complete one revolution with respect to the same lunar node (a point where the Moon's orbit intersects the ecliptic). The year is associated with eclipses: these occur only when both the Sun and the Moon are near these nodes; so eclipses occur within about a month of every half eclipse year. Hence there are two eclipse seasons every eclipse year. The average duration of the eclipse year is

This term is sometimes erroneously used for the draconic or nodal period of lunar precession, that is the period of a complete revolution of the Moon's ascending node around the ecliptic: 7001186128159320000♠18.612815932 Julian years (7003679833101900000♠6798.331019 days; at the epoch J2000.0).

The full moon cycle is the time for the Sun (as seen from the Earth) to complete one revolution with respect to the perigee of the Moon's orbit. This period is associated with the apparent size of the full moon, and also with the varying duration of the synodic month. The duration of one full moon cycle is:

The lunar year comprises twelve full cycles of the phases of the Moon, as seen from Earth. It has a duration of approximately 354.37 days. Muslims use this for celebrating their Eids and for marking the start of the fasting month of Ramadan. A Muslim calendar year is based on the lunar cycle.

The vague year, from annus vagus or wandering year, is an integral approximation to the year equaling 365 days, which wanders in relation to more exact years. Typically the vague year is divided into 12 schematic months of 30 days each plus 5 epagomenal days. The vague year was used in the calendars of Ancient Egypt, Iran, Armenia and in Mesoamerica among the Aztecs and Maya. It is still used by many Zoroastrian communities.

A heliacal year is the interval between the heliacal risings of a star. It differs from the sidereal year for stars away from the ecliptic due mainly to the precession of the equinoxes.

The Sothic year is the interval between heliacal risings of the star Sirius. It is currently less than the sidereal year and its duration is very close to the Julian year of 365.25 days.

The Gaussian year is the sidereal year for a planet of negligible mass (relative to the Sun) and unperturbed by other planets that is governed by the Gaussian gravitational constant. Such a planet would be slightly closer to the Sun than Earth's mean distance. Its length is:

The Besselian year is a tropical year that starts when the (fictitious) mean Sun reaches an ecliptic longitude of 280°. This is currently on or close to January 1. It is named after the 19th-century German astronomer and mathematician Friedrich Bessel. The following equation can be used to compute the current Besselian epoch (in years):

The TT subscript indicates that for this formula, the Julian date should use the Terrestrial Time scale, or its predecessor, ephemeris time.

The exact length of an astronomical year changes over time.

Mean year lengths in this section are calculated for 2000, and differences in year lengths, compared to 2000, are given for past and future years. In the tables a day is 86,400 SI seconds long.

An average Gregorian year is 365.2425 days (52.1775 weeks, 7003876582000000000♠8765.82 hours, 7005525949199999999♠525949.2 minutes or 7007315569520000000♠31556952 seconds). For this calendar, a common year is 365 days (7003876000000000000♠8760 hours, 7005525600000000000♠525600 minutes or 7007315360000000000♠31536000 seconds), and a leap year is 366 days (7003878400000000000♠8784 hours, 7005527040000000000♠527040 minutes or 7007316224000000000♠31622400 seconds). The 400-year cycle of the Gregorian calendar has 7005146097000000000♠146097 days and hence exactly 7004208710000000000♠20871 weeks.

"Greater" astronomical years

The Great Year, or equinoctial cycle, corresponds to a complete revolution of the equinoxes around the ecliptic. Its length is about 25,700 years, and cannot be determined precisely enough yet, as the precession speed depends on too many factors, causing not yet predictable variation.

The Galactic year is the time it takes Earth's solar system to revolve once around the galactic center. It comprises roughly 230 million Earth years.

Seasonal year

A seasonal year is the time between successive recurrences of a seasonal event such as the flooding of a river, the migration of a species of bird, the flowering of a species of plant, the first frost, or the first scheduled game of a certain sport. All of these events can have wide variations of more than a month from year to year.


In the International System of Quantities the symbol for the year as a unit of time is a, taken from the Latin word annus.

In English, the abbreviations "y" or "yr" are more commonly used in non-scientific literature, but also specifically in geology and paleontology, where "kyr, myr, byr" (thousands, millions, and billions of years, respectively) and similar abbreviations are used to denote intervals of time remote from the present.

NIST SP811 and ISO 80000-3:2006 support the symbol a as the unit of time for a year. In English, the abbreviations y and yr are also used.

The Unified Code for Units of Measure disambiguates the varying symbologies of ISO 1000, ISO 2955 and ANSI X3.50 by using:


The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the International Union of Geological Sciences have jointly recommended defining the annus, with symbol a, as the length of the tropical year in the year 2000:

This differs from the above definition of 365.25 days by about 20 parts per million. The joint document says that definitions such as the Julian year "bear an inherent, pre-programmed obsolescence because of the variability of Earth’s orbital movement", but then proposes using the length of the tropical year as of 2000 AD (specified down to the millisecond), which of course suffers from the same problem. (The tropical year oscillates with time by more than a minute.)

The notation has proved controversial as it conflicts with an earlier convention among geoscientists to use a specifically for years ago, and y or yr for a one-year time period.

For the following, there are alternative forms which elide the consecutive vowels, such as kilannus, megannus, etc. The exponents and exponential notations are typically used for calculating and in displaying calculations, and for conserving space, as in tables of data.

In astronomy, geology, and paleontology, the abbreviation yr for years and ya for years ago are sometimes used, combined with prefixes for thousand, million, or billion. They are not SI units, using y to abbreviate English year, but following ambiguous international recommendations, use either the standard English first letters as prefixes (t, m, and b) or metric prefixes (k, M, and G) or variations on metric prefixes (k, m, g). These abbreviations include:

Use of mya and bya is deprecated in modern geophysics, the recommended usage being Ma and Ga for dates Before Present, but "m.y." for the duration of epochs. This ad hoc distinction between "absolute" time and time intervals is somewhat controversial amongst members of the Geological Society of America.

Note that on graphs using ya units on the horizontal axis time flows from right to left, which may seem counter-intuitive. If the ya units are on the vertical axis, time flows from top to bottom which is probably easier to understand than conventional notation.

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