Clock with auxiliary dial displaying the equation of time. Piazza Dante, Naples
During a year the equation of time varies as shown on the graph; its change from one year to the next is slight. Apparent time, and the sundial, can be ahead (fast) by as much as 16 min 33 s (around 3 November), or behind (slow) by as much as 14 min 6 s (around 12 February). The equation of time has zeros near 15 April, 13 June, 1 September and 25 December. Ignoring very slow changes in the Earth's orbit and rotation, these events are repeated at the same times every tropical year. However, due to the non-integer number of days in a year, these dates can vary by a day or so from year to year.
The graph of the equation of time is closely approximated by the sum of two sine curves, one with a period of a year and one with a period of half a year. The curves reflect two astronomical effects, each causing a different non-uniformity in the apparent daily motion of the Sun relative to the stars:
- the obliquity of the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth's annual orbital motion around the Sun), which is inclined by about 23.44 degrees relative to the plane of the Earth's equator; and
- the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, which is about 0.0167.
The equation of time is constant only for a planet with zero axial tilt and zero orbital eccentricity. On Mars the difference between sundial time and clock time can be as much as 50 minutes, due to the considerably greater eccentricity of its orbit. The planet Uranus, which has an extremely large axial tilt, has an equation of time that makes its days start and finish several hours earlier or later depending on where it is in its orbit.