It’s tough to imagine what the Earth’s orbit might look like from the top down. Fortunately, some clever people at the University of Colorado have made a simple simulation program which lets us tinker with our very own solar system!
The progam is quite basic, but worth a few minutes of play-time. The default settings for 3 bodies show the basic pattern of how the Earth moves around the Sun, with the moon spiralling along in tow. Tinkering with the settings, such as the mass of the bodies or their starting position, can give anything from planetary collisions to crazy spirographs to your celestial bodies flying off into deep space never to be seen again.
I enjoy it because it gives a good overview of how the velocity of an object is totally relative. In the 3-body default, the small blue ball (moon) is circling the pink ball (Earth) at a rate which would appear roughly constant to an observer on the pink ball (as the Moon does here on Earth). However, relative to the ‘sun’, the blue ball is constantly slowing down and speeding up in its orbit. In practice, it’s similar to many carnival rides, which whirl riders around on large arms or in moving teacups – the rider gets a sensation of extra speed towards the outside of their spin, followed by a period which seems more stationary. Cool, huh?