What’s a Few Million Miles?
If you’re up Friday or Saturday morning before dawn, look for the waning crescent moon low in the east-northeast. Friday look for the bright star Aldebaran, the heart of Taurus the bull, positioned just above the two points of the thin crescent, while farther to the north are Mars and Jupiter just reemerged from behind the glare of the sun. Saturday morning, the dwindling sliver of moon is just a few degrees above the two planets. By now, the three are so close to the horizon that you may need binoculars to spot Jupiter and Mars.
New moon falls on Monday, but you really can’t see it from Sunday until Wednesday, when an ever-so-thin crescent appears above the west-northwest horizon briefly after sunset. Fifteen degrees above this waxing moon is Venus, the next-brightest heavenly body after the moon. The moon sets within 30 minutes of the sun, while Venus remains visible another hour before setting from view.
While not as distinct as Venus, Saturn lingers in our night skies, appearing high in the south at sunset, standing above the southwest horizon at midnight, and setting in the east at 1:30am. Look to its east for the bright-white star Spica in the constellation Virgo.
Despite summer’s heat, Friday around noon marks Earth’s aphelion, its farthest point from the sun for the year. At that moment, we will be 94,508,959 miles from the sun, compared to an average distance of 93 million miles and our nearest, perihelion, on average of 91,445,000 miles. While that might seem like a lot of miles, it adds up to less than a two percent difference — nowhere near enough to affect or cause our seasons here on Earth. That distinction goes to Earth’s tilted axis, which causes one side of the planet to face the sun for longer durations, thus significantly warming that part of the globe.