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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

This Week: The Sun is at Its Farthest

This Week: The Sun is at Its Farthest

July 4 is Independence Day, the anniversary of the day the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. That isn’t the only special thing about the date, though. On July 4, 2011, at 11 a.m., Eastern Time, the Earth will also reach aphelion, its farthest point from the Sun for the year.

Aphelion can fall anywhere between July 2 and July 6 in a given year. At that point in its orbit, the Earth is 94,509,130 miles from the Sun, a difference of about three million miles from its closest point, or perihelion. Earth will reach perihelion on January 4, 2012, at 8 p.m., Eastern Time, a distance of 91,407,282 miles from the Sun.

It may seem strange to learn that, while the U.S. and Canada are experiencing their hottest temperatures of the year, the Earth is actually farther from the Sun than at any other time during the year.

Even though most of us learned in school that seasons are controlled by the tilt of the Earth’s axis, rather than by its distance from the Sun, many people forget. We experience summer or winter conditions based on whether our half of the Earth is pointed toward the Sun or away from it. While we’re experiencing summer in the Northern Hemisphere, our neighbors to the south are battling ice and snow, and vice verse.

A three million-mile change in relative distance may sound like a lot, but our overall distance from the Sun is so great that this otherwise large figure amounts to a drop in the vast astronomical bucket of infinite space. This slight change in distance has virtually no effect on our weather throughout the year.

So, while you’re sweating and slathering on the sunscreen this summer, try to remember that the Sun is actually three million miles farther away than it was in January. Maybe that will help you feel a little cooler.

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.