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FAQs

Are the December solstice and January perihelion related?

Earth and sun via ISS Expedition 13 / NASA.

Earth and sun via ISS Expedition 13 / NASA.

Earth comes closest to the sun (perihelion) tomorrow. Meanwhile, the December solstice took place on December 21. Are the December solstice and January perihelion related? No. It’s just a coincidence that they come so close together. Click inside to see when perihelion will fall at the March equinox.

Why does the new year begin on January 1?

Photo credit: Daniel Moile

The date of New Year’s Day seems so fundamental that it’s almost as though nature ordained it. But New Year’s Day is a civil event. Its date is not precisely fixed by a seasonal marker.

Why are some foods considered lucky for New Year’s?

Black-eyed peas form the base of the New Year’s Day triumvirate – along with greens and cornbread – for many U.S. southerners. Recipe via foodnetwork.com.

I’ve already invited the kids for black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day. As a born-and-raised U.S. southerner, I wouldn’t dream of passing a New Year’s Day without eating at least a few black-eyed peas. It occurred to me to wonder why this food – plus the greens and the cornbread – are considered lucky for New Year’s. I found out that this deep tradition of the U.S. South dates back to the Civil War.

What’s the birthstone for January?

Photo credit: cobalt123

Photo credit: cobalt123

Happy birthday January babies! Your birthstone, the garnet, symbolizes a light heart, loyalty and enduring affections.

The name “garnet” is derived from the Latin “granatum” meaning “pomegranate” because the crystals resemble the red color and seed-like form of this fruit.

How many stars can you see on a clear, moonless night?

Stars over Mount Bethel in the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado.  View larger. via EarthSky friend Daniel McVey.  See more of Daniel's photos here.

Stars over Mount Bethel in the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado via EarthSky friend Daniel McVey.

The moon is waning now, and the evening sky is free of bright moonlight. By this weekend, the only moon you see will be a waning crescent in the hours before dawn. Good weekend to go camping and observe some dark skies! You might wonder … how many stars can you see with the eye alone?

What causes Death Valley’s sliding stones to move?

The video above shows a famous sliding stone of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa in motion. See it? It’s the big rock in the foreground. Watching this video, you become one of the first people on Earth to see a sliding stone in motion. Although their tracks across Racetrack Playa – a dry lake bed in Death Valley – have been observed and studied since the early 1900s, no one had ever seen the stones in motion … until recently. What’s more, the researchers who captured this video say they now know what causes the stones to move.

Was the Christmas Star real?

What was the Christmas Star? Scientist Bradley Schaefer has some new things to say on this week’s EarthSky 22. Photo by Russell Croman

The Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star, is mentioned in the Bible. It’s said to have led the three wise men to Bethlehem. But was the Christmas Star a real object in the sky? Or was it just a symbol?

Why do most evergreen trees have a pyramid shape?

evergreen trees conifers

Photo credit: Bill Abbott/Flickr

Those who admire the shape of a Christmas tree might like to know that its shape has evolved in response to wind, snow, and light.

Why does Earth have four seasons?

Low sun at winter solstice

Low sun at winter solstice

Many believe Earth’s changing distance from the sun causes the change in the seasons. But that is not the case.

How high up are meteors when they begin to glow?

Geminid meteor. Photo by Tommy Eliassen. Capture time: 00:12am, Dec 11, 2014.  Location: Lovund, Nordland, Norway.

Geminid meteor. Photo by Tommy Eliassen. Capture time: 00:12am, Dec 11, 2014. Location: Lovund, Nordland, Norway.

Your Friday FAQ. Geminid meteor shower peaks this weekend!