This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

3Jan/11

Happy Perihelion Day!

Today is Perihelion day, and this seems oddly important enough to write about.  What better way to kick off the new year than with a shout out to those wonderful cosmological processes that actually cause us to have "years" in the first place?

The word "perihelion" means just what it sounds like: we're near the sun.  Nearer, in fact, than we'll be for another 365 days or so.  So how do we know this?

Well, as you may recall from your elementary school days (or from college for all you planetary physicists out there), all orbiting bodies around the sun do not follow a perfectly circular path, but instead make long, arcing ellipses around our sun.  Whenever this happens, there is a point on your elliptical path that is closest-to (and another that is farthest-from) the focus of your path (as illustated below: 3 would be the sun, while 2 is the perihelion).

Well folks, right now we're sitting right about where the 2 is, meaning that we're closer to the sun than we'll be for quite some time.  Curious what this looks like in space-vision?

If you can read it, you'll notice a little green dot and red dot on each elliptical path.  These are the perihelion and aphelion points, respectively, for each planet.  (ours is the yellow line)

It'll be an entire year before we get so up-close-and-personal with the sun, so get outside and give a wave to our incandescent neighbor as we whizz by this year...it's only a mere 91,402,505 miles away!

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