The sun is a little closer in the sky than Earth right now.
Earth is closest to the sun on Tuesday (January 4) on its 365.25-day journey. This milestone, called perihelion, happens coincidentally near the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year observed by much of the world, including North America.
The exact time of this year’s perihelion occurred at 1:52 am EST (0652 GMT), according to EarthSky. Earth was about 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) closer to the sun than at aphelion, when it is farthest from the sun, which occurs in early July. That variation is relatively small compared to the average distance from Earth to the sun of 92,955,807 miles (149,597,870 km).
Related: Top 10 Views of Earth from Space
Perihelion and aphelion do not cause the seasons, they occur due to the tilt of the planet’s axis, but these orbital landmarks affect the duration of the seasons. When Earth is farther from the sun, it moves slightly slower in its orbit than during close approach, making the Northern Hemisphere winter about five days shorter than summer.
This orbital behavior is explained in the second law of planetary motion formulated by the astronomer Johannes Kepler during the seventeenth century.
Based in part on the early telescopic observations of astronomer Tycho Brahe, Kepler realized that planets travel in ellipses, rather than the perfect circles imagined by many earlier astronomers. Kepler discovered that an invisible line connecting a planet to the sun swept an equal amount of area for the same amount of time during a planet’s travel around the sun. This characteristic means that a planet needs to travel faster when it is closer to the sun and slower when it is further away; the speed difference was later explained with the theories of gravity.
(Image credit: NOAA)
However, winter will still feel quite cold in the Northern Hemisphere, even with the shortest distance to the sun.
“Even when taking into account the difference in distance between aphelion and perihelion, there is only about a 7% difference in the global average. [solar energy] that we get, “Walter Petersen, a research physical scientist in the Earth Sciences branch at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, told Space.com in 2018.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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