On July 4, 2020, Planet Earth hits a milestone as it reaches out to aphelion, the most distant position from the sun. It takes place at 11:35 UTC which is 6:35 a.m. Central Daylight Time in the United States. You can convert UTC to your time. Do you feel like it is hot outside right now on your part of Earth? Or maybe cold? The aphelion of Earth occurs in the middle of summertime in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, this shows that the seasons aren’t caused by our distance from the sun. You can read more about that below.
In fact, the orbit of the Earth is nearly circular, though not quite. Therefore, our distance from the sun can’t change a lot. We are three million miles (or 5 million km) distant from the sun than we are going to be in 6 months from now. That’s in comparison to our distance from the sun that is an average of about 93 million miles (150 million km).
The word aphelion has a very interesting meaning. It originates from two Greek words; apo that means apart, away, off, and Helios which is the name of the Greek god of the sun. That is us today – away from the sun.
If you want to know the exact distance of Earth from the sun at aphelion, here it is; 94,507,653 miles or 152,095,295 km. On July 4 last year, the aphelion of the Earth was a little bit farther – 94,513,221 miles or 152,104,285 km.
What causes the seasons?
The seasons are not related to the distance of Earth from the sun that is changing. During the northern summer, we are always farthest from the sun in early July. However, during the northern winter in January we are closest.
Therefore, the seasons are caused by the shift of the Earth on its axis. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is summer right now, as the northern half of Earth is more inclined toward the sun.
In the Southern Hemisphere, however, it is winter as Earth’s southern part is turned far away from the sun.
The changing distance of Earth and the sun affects the duration of the seasons. That happens because, like now, Earth moves very slowly in the orbit at our farthest from the sun. That causes summer to be the Northern Hemisphere’s longest season, and winter the longest season in the southern part of the planet.
In contrast, winter is Northern Hemisphere’s shortest season, and summer the Southern Hemisphere’s shortest, by nearly five days in each case.
To sum up: On July 4, the Earth approaches the furthest point from the sun for this year. Astronomers consider this yearly point in the orbit of the Earth our aphelion.