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Fanciful artist's depiction of how the planets might look. Not to scale.

Cosmic Irony With Earth at Perihelion, as Jupiter Closes In

ICTMN Staff
1/4/14

Temperatures have plummeted throughout much of Turtle Island, and indeed, in Manitoba, Canada, it’s as cold as parts of Mars. We’ve never been farther from the sun.

Or have we?

In a cosmic irony, Mother Earth is actually as close to the sun as she ever gets. Each January, we’re about three million miles closer than we are in early July, according to Earthsky.org. And January 4 is the day this happens in 2014.

While it’s not enough to change the seasons—the total distance between the two varies from the current 91 million miles to 94.5 million miles in early July, according to Space.com—it does contribute to how long they last.

Earth’s orbit is elliptical, and thus the closer it is to the sun, the faster it orbits.

“When the Earth comes closest to the sun for the year, as now, our world is moving fastest in orbit around the sun,” Earthsky.org says. “Earth is rushing along now at 30.3 kilometers per second (almost 19 miles per second)—moving about a kilometer per second faster than when Earth is farthest from the sun in early July. Thus the Northern Hemisphere winter (Southern Hemisphere summer) is the shortest season as Earth rushes from the winter solstice in December to the March equinox.”

As improbable as that might seem right now, the phenomena actually makes the summer season between the equinoxes five days longer than the winter one, Earthsky.org said, at least up north. In the Southern Hemisphere the opposite is true. The exact moment of closeness falls at noon Universal Time, or 7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Also at its closest for the year to Earth is Jupiter, and the gas giant is at opposition on Sunday January 5—meaning that our planet lies exactly between it and the sun. The combo of proximity and placement give us a nightlong view of a blazing planet. It will be in the east as night falls and segues into evening, high overhead at midnight and low in the west on Monday January 5. The actual closest approach occurs on January 4, when Jupiter is 391 million miles from us.

This is the best view we’ll have of Jupiter until 2020, Earthsky.org tells us. The nights of January 5 and 6 are the best to see the magnificent orb. In fact, UniverseToday.com tells us, Jupiter will outshine Venus this month, as the latter flees just after sunset, leaving the skies to its only slightly less luminous cousin. 

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