Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

123,605 subscribers and counting ...

By in
| Space on Jan 04, 2014

Are the December solstice and the January perihelion related?

Earth is closest to the sun in 2014 on January 4. That’s not long after December solstice, when Earth’s Northern Hemisphere is titled most away from the sun for the year. But these two events aren’t related.

The December solstice occurs just a few weeks before Earth reaches its perihelion – the point in our world’s orbit in which we are closest to the sun – each year. December solstice always comes around December 21. Perihelion comes in early January. At perihelion in January, Earth is about 147 million kilometers from the sun, in contrast to about 152 million kilometers in July.

Earth closest to the sun on January 4, 2014

Everything you need to know: December solstice

Are the December solstice and January perihelion related? No. It’s just a coincidence that they come so close together.

The date of Earth’s perihelion drifts as the centuries pass. These two astronomical events are separated by about two weeks for us. But they were closer a few centuries ago – and in fact happened at the same time in 1246 AD.

As the centuries continue to pass, these events will drift even farther apart. On the average, one revolution of the Earth relative to perihelion is about 25 minutes longer than one revolution relative to the December solstice. Perihelion advances one full calendar date every 60 or so years.

Earth’s perihelion – or closest point to the sun – will happen at the same time as the March equinox in about 6000 AD.

Earth tilt obliquity

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Dennis Nilsson

Why does the New Year begin on January 1?