Skywatch: Earth reaches a milestone in its trip around the sun this week


If you’re out early on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday you can use the moon to help you spot a trio of planets. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will be low in the southeastern sky before sunrise this week. The waning crescent moon will join the three on the aforementioned mornings. Venus will be the brightest of the planets and the highest in the sky. Jupiter will also shine brightly just below and left of Venus with Mercury very low on the horizon below and left of the solar system’s largest planet. Above is how you’ll find the three on Thursday morning.

The Earth will reach a milestone in its yearly journey around our sun this week. Just after midnight on Thursday it will reach something known as perihelion. That is when the Earth is at it’s closest point to the sun for the year. We’ll be a mere 91.4 million miles from the star that makes life possible. This underscores the fact that the tilt of the Earth, and not its distance from the sun, is what drives the seasons on the planet we call home.

You can also enjoy the latest sunrises on Thursday and Friday mornings. You might think it’s counterintuitive that the latest sunrises don’t coincide with the winter solstice which was a few weeks ago. Our day is 24 hours long but very rarely is the actual day, or the time between two successive solar noons, 24 hours long. This quirk leads to the fact that our earliest sunsets, and latest sunrises occur before and after the solstice respectively. According to the sunrises on Thursday and Friday will occur at 7:53:50 a.m. It’ll be easier to catch if you’re prone to sleeping in.

A dark moon means we could be treated to a show when the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks early Friday morning. Caused by something known as 2003 EH1 the shower has been known to produce 80 – 100 meteors per hour, assuming good viewing and a spot far enough north. Sadly, we are not in that zone. We’ll be lucky to see 10 or so an hour around midnight on the 4th. As always find a dark spot, far away from the city lights to get the best show.

The moon darkens to New Moon on Saturday at 8:28 p.m. which means if the weather cooperates you’ll be able to see a star filled sky on Saturday night. Happy hunting!

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