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It's likely I'm missing on some fundamental understanding here.

enter image description here

I'd like to change the planets' local axes to match the global. So in Object mode, I rotate Z90. So far so good.

I thought the next step would be to Apply the Rotation change. However, Apply changes the rotation back to default.

Can someone explain what I'm missing here?

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Got it!

The problem was I had all the planets Parented to an empty at the sun's position.

Once I unparented the planets, I was able to Apply the change and have it stick.

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You could rotate it in edit mode - this shouldn't affect the object's local rotation so you should be able to get it to match the global?

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