I missed the first major celestial event of 2020 – The Quadrantids meteor shower which peaked Friday night and early Saturday morning.
Murphy’s Law of Astronomy around here made it rainy and cloudy again. That’s a shame because the Quadrantids are short-lived and known for bright fireball meteors with long, glowing tails.
Poor old constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant hence the meteors’ name) is one of the former constellations that was demoted, but the meteors continue to shoot out of that quadrant.
The second event is unobservable with your eyes. Earth will reach its closest point to the sun for the whole of 2020 on January 4 or 5 (depends on your time zone). It happened today, January 5, at 07:48 UTC (2:48 a.m. Eastern Time) while I was sleeping.
This is what astronomers call perihelion – Greek peri meaning near and helios meaning sun. Shouldn’t it feel warmer if the Sun is “only” 91,398,199 miles (147,091,144 km) away? Nope. That elliptical orbit has nothing to do with seasons.
In fact, in early July 4, 2020, when the Earth reaches aphelion (most distant point), it will be much hotter here in Paradelle though the Sun will be 94,507,635 miles (152,095,295 km) away from us.
Being 3 million miles closer to the sun today doesn’t seem to make a big difference in our lives – though it seems like it should. It does affect seasonal lengths because right now Earth is moving fastest in its orbit around the Sun. That makes my Northern Hemisphere winter and someone else’s Southern Hemisphere summer the shortest seasons.
Does the Sun feel any closer to you today? I don’t mean does it feel warmer – though you might assume that to be true if it was any closer. Tonight, January 2, 2019, Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun for this entire year.
The moment of this special point in our orbit is called perihelion, a word we get from the Greek roots peri (near) and helios (sun). The actual moment of perihelion will be 11:20 p.m. CST tonight.
Don’t expect to feel anything. Like most celestial occurrences, we don’t feel the effects immediately (like the change of seasons) or at all (like perihelion).
How close is close for the Sun? Earth will be 91,403,554 miles (147,099,761 km) from the Sun. Still, pretty far away. But in six months when we are farthest away (aphelion) and is most distant, the distance will be about 3 million miles (5 million km) further away.
Are you surprised that when we are farthest away from the sun in early July, it will be summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere.
Remember all the hoopla about the total solar eclipse we witnessed in August of last year? There is another partial one today. This Friday the 13th solar eclipse will quite small and be visible mainly over the Southern Ocean area between Australia and Antarctica, so no media coverage here in the U.S.
My thoughts go back to ancient times and what we would now see as strange responses to solar eclipses. How terrifying must this have been to them?
In American Eclipse, there is the story of a Roman emperor who witnessed a total solar eclipse in A.D. 840 and was so upset by this “omen” that he stopped eating and eventually starved to death. Rome went into a civil war.
The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They’d try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.
One more positive reaction occurred in the sixth century B.C., during a battle in Asia Minor between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse stopped the battle and it was believed that the eclipse was a sign for them to stop the fighting,
Certainly, ancient people looked at the eclipse and had their eyes damaged or were blinded. That certainly added to the fear. Don’t look into the face of God or the gods.
If you were a believer in 13 as an unlucky number and Friday being an unlucky day (more about that aspect here), then adding a solar eclipse made a trifecta of bad luck.
Also take note that solar and lunar eclipses always come in pairs, with one following the other in a period of one fortnight (approximately two weeks).
This is a New Moon supermoon today and is the first Friday the 13th solar eclipse since December 13, 1974. I won’t be blogging about the next one on Friday September 13, 2080..
Well, Earth is at its most distant point from the Sun today.
This position is called aphelion That is a word that came into English in the mid-17th century as an alteration of modern Latin aphelium with a substitution of the Greek inflection -on. Originally, it was the Greek aphhēlion meaning “from the sun.”
But don’t it expect it to seem colder outside. In Paradelle, we are in the midst of a heat wave. It’s summer here and it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere which reminds us that our distance from the sun is not what causes the seasons.
When the Earth is closest to the Sun it is called perihelion.