LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – We are in the middle of winter, and statistically the coldest time of the year, so it is hard to believe the sun is more than 3 million miles closer to earth than it was this summer!
This is caused by the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun. The orbit is an ellipse, which means there are periods when we are closer and farther away from the sun.
The point closest to the sun is called perihelion and it occurs in early January. The point furthest from the sun is called aphelion and it occurs in early July.
For us Arkansans, we are closest to the sun in the middle of winter and furthest from the sun in the middle of summer. This is true for everyone in the northern hemisphere.
South of the equator, the opposite occurs. They are closest to the sun in the summer and furthest in the winter.
You might be thinking… How is it possible we are closest during the coldest time of the year?
This is because the change in the distance has very little impact on the temperature. The 3,103,330 miles is only a difference of 3.3%.
Our seasons are caused by the earth’s tilt. The 23.5° tilt of the earth has much more impact on our temperatures than the 3.3% distance change.
Perihelion and aphelion don’t always fall on the same day. The shape of the earth’s orbit changes at an extremely slow rate. 10,000 years from now the northern hemisphere will be closest to the sun in the summer and furthest in the winter. This would cause slightly warmer summers and slightly cooler winters.
– Meteorologist Alex Libby
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