# Why are perihelion and the shortest day in the northern hemisphere different?

The orbit of Earth is elliptical and the nearest distance to sun is perihelion position. Should it not be the shortest day in the northern hemisphere?

• Why should it be any different if you apply the exact same logic to the Southern Hemisphere? North and South aren't related to perihelion/aphelion. Jan 12, 2020 at 16:46
• The real question you should be asking is why perihelion and the northern winter solstice are so close together, only a couple of weeks apart. And the answer is that it’s just a coincidence. Jan 12, 2020 at 19:09
• Imagine if they are the same. Then why are Perihelion and Shortest day in South Hemisphere different? Jan 13, 2020 at 17:31
• Clearly, the Illuminati got their math wrong when they were coming up with the Globe Earth story. Jan 14, 2020 at 6:26
• The shortest day (in the northern hemisphere) occurs when Earth's axis of rotation is tilted furthest away from the sun. Perihelion occurs when the orbit of Earth takes it nearest to the sun. The events arise from unrelated causes and are therefore also unrelated. Jan 14, 2020 at 15:03

## 3 Answers

We have "days" because the Earth is rotating. The shape of the orbit has little effect on the daily cycle of light and dark.

The varying length of the day is determined by the tilt of Earth relative to the plane of the orbit of the Earth around the sun. When the Northern hemisphere is pointed away from the sun, then the sun is low in the sky and is below the horizon for longer. So the shortest day happens when the Earth is at the point in its orbit when the angle that the Earth's axis makes with the line from the Earth to the Sun is greatest. This is on about the 21 December.

The longest and shortest days of the year occur because of the tilt of the planet, which also controls when the Equinoxes and Solstices occur. The tilt of the planet has absolutely nothing to do with its location in orbit, and it's only pure coincidence that they're so close together. Also, perihelion moves over time (apsidal precession) and in 56,000 years it would occur on the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Except for the fact that the Earth's axis will have also precessed (with a period of around 26,000 years) so the shortest day will occur somewhere else on in the Earth's orbit

For the sake of clarity: The equinox does not occur on the minor axis. The solstice does not occur on the major axis. The tilt of the Earth to then orbital plane does not change over the course of the year, and the Earth's rotational axis is no aligned with the major axis of the Earth's orbit.

• +1 Indeed. Also, perihelion moves over time (apsidal precession) and in 56,000 years it would occur on the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Except for the fact that the Earth's axis will have also precessed (with a period of around 26,000 years) so the shortest day will occur somewhere else on in the Earth's orbit Jan 12, 2020 at 16:56
• Let me put up the question differently. Its really not Northern or Southern hemisphere. The question is Should the Equinox and Solstice occur at Minor axis and Major axis since the orbit is Elliptical? Jan 12, 2020 at 23:18
• @MohanMone The answer remains exactly the same. The longest and shortest days of the year occur because of the tilt of the planet, which also controls when the Equinoxes and Solstices occur. The tilt of the planet has absolutely nothing to do with its location in orbit, and it's only pure coincidence that they're so close together. Jan 12, 2020 at 23:55
• @MohanMone The piece you are missing is the tilt of the earth is not parallel to the major axis of the elliptical orbit, so the equinoxes/solstices are not lined up with the major/minor axes. There is no "the tilt towards sun is ZERO, hence the point should be on the Minor axis" because there's no reason for it to be. Jan 13, 2020 at 5:27
• It is worth adding that this coincidence is only valid for the current timeframe. The Earth axis changes because of the precession movement but with a period of 26k years. hosting.astro.cornell.edu/academics/courses/astro201/… but @DaveGremlin just did. OOps. Jan 13, 2020 at 15:33

Equinoxes and solstices are determined by the direction of tilt of the planet's daily rotation. The direction of tilt of a planet's rotational axis is essentially random, (mostly) constant, and unrelated to any property of its orbit.

I did not calculate the precise correct position of the sun in the below diagram, but it doesn't need to be precise to illustrate the point. The planet's tilt is toward the upper right of the diagram at all points in the orbit, changing only very slowly in a process called precession that takes many millennia.

• Nice diagram. Just to make it clear that there's no preferred direction or no preferred hemisphere, "Tilt" could have arrows in both directions and "Summer Solstice" and "Winter Solstice" could just be "Solstice"s. Jan 13, 2020 at 14:23

The amount of daylight does not define a day. A day is defined as between noon one day until noon the following day. Because the earth is closer to the Sun during the Perihelion, it moves faster through the orbit. This means that it travels farther between noon Jan 4 and Jan 5 than between July 4 and July 5. Because the earth moves farther, it must rotate more before it is noon the following day. That makes January 4 a few seconds longer than July 4.

• Your answer is technically correct, but the original question is using "length of day" to mean the length of daylight: the time from sunrise until sunset. That occurs on the winter solstice (Dec 21 for Norther hemisphere), not at perihelion. Dec 21, 2023 at 17:52
• The length of a day remains at approximately 24 hours all year long and the length of a day is the same in the northern and southern hemisphere. The words "day" and "daylight" are the cause of the confusion. Dec 22, 2023 at 19:24
• Unfortunately, "day" is ambiguous in English. It can mean "a period of 24 hours" but it can also mean "the period from sunrise to sunset". You just have to guess from the context. Some languages have separate terms. Dec 26, 2023 at 10:14
• The solar day length varies from 24 hours - ~22 seconds to 24 hours + ~30 seconds. See my answer physics.stackexchange.com/a/790695/123208 Dec 26, 2023 at 11:31