What is the Aphelion?

Summer Heat and the Aphelion

Across the United States, on July 4, 2022, people celebrated the anniversary of our country in various ways. There were family picnics, parades, fireworks, and other events. However, most people did not realize that in addition to being the U.S. Independence Day, July 4 was also the day for aphelion this year. What is the aphelion?

Earth’s rotation around the Sun is not a perfect circle but slightly elliptical. When Earth is farthest away, that is called aphelion, and it occurred at 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT) on the fourth of July this year. At that time, Earth was separated from the Sun by 94.51 million miles (152.1 million km). We see this as another evidence of design in our planet. Aphelion always occurs in mid-summer. When Earth makes its closest approach to the Sun, astronomers call that perihelion. That happens in mid-winter, and the next time will be January 4, 2023, when Earth will be 5 million km closer to the Sun.

Why do we consider it a design feature that Earth and Sun are closest during the winter and farthest apart in the Summer? Look at a map or globe of Earth and notice that most of the land mass is in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere is mostly water. Water absorbs and dissipates heat from the Sun much more efficiently than land does. In mid-summer, the temperature can, and does, become unbearably hot when the sunshine beats down on the land. It would be even hotter if the aphelion occurred at that time.

Of course, the summer and winter seasons are determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis, not distance from the Sun. However, distance plays a minor role in the concentration of the Sun’s rays on our planet. Our orbit around the Sun maintains Earth in the “Goldilocks Zone” within the temperature range where water can exist as a liquid. Summer and winter are tempered by the aphelion and perihelion to further stabilize our climate. That is an additional indication that our planet is well-designed for life. We don’t think it’s a coincidence, but evidence of a loving God.

— Roland Earnst © 2022