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Skywatch: The Earth hits a milestone this week

The Earth & the Sun make their closest pass of the year this week.
The Perihelion

Our planet reaches a milestone in its yearly journey around this sun this week. At about 3 a.m. on Sunday morning Earth will be approximately 91.4 million miles from the sun.

That may not sound like a big deal but it is. This is known as the perihelion and it occurs right around this time every year. It’s when the Earth is closest to the sun in its orbit.

The fact that it happens when we’re typically at (or close to) our coldest temperatures of the year underscores how important the tilt of the Earth on its axis is when it comes to driving the seasons.

The Moon meets Taurus

If you’re out early in the week lookup for the moon and you’ll find it in the constellation of Taurus, the bull. Taurus is one of the most recognizable constellations in the wintertime. Above is how you’ll find the two on Tuesday night.

Courtesy: NASA

The innermost planet will reach something known as “superior conjunction” on Friday morning. That’s when Mercury will line up on the backside of the sun.

The planet has been in the morning sky recently and now it transitioning to the evening sky. It’ll be visible around sunset in a few weeks.

The Full Wolf Moon

The full moon will arrive at 2:21 in the afternoon on Friday as well. This month’s full moon is known as the Full Wolf Moon because this was traditionally the time of year hungry wolves could be heard howling in the distance. It’s also known as the Full Cold Moon.

Courtesy: NASA/Fred Espenak

If you’re in the right part of the world (sadly we will not be) you might be able to see the penumbral lunar eclipse on Friday. Penumbral lunar eclipses aren’t like a total lunar eclipse when the Moon passes directly through the Earth’s shadow.

These eclipses are more subtle because the moon is moving through the outer shadow of our planet. They’re tough to observe because the penumbra doesn’t cast as dark of a shadow onto our satellite. Happy hunting!