Experts say Earth’s aphelion, when the sun is furthest away, has no impact on temperatures or human health

·3-min read

Posts shared on Facebook in Africa and Europe claim that a cosmological event called the “aphelion phenomenon” has been causing extremely cold weather on Earth since July 4, 2022, and will continue to do so until August 22, 2022, because of the increased distance to the sun. The posts also claim the event will cause people to fall ill. But this is false: two astronomers told AFP Fact Check the aphelion is an annual occurrence which has no impact on Earth’s temperature or human health.

“They call it APHELION PHENOMENON. If most of us have noticed the cold weather. This started last month will last till August 22nd (sic),” reads a post published on Facebook in Nigeria on July 6, 2022.

Screenshot showing the false post, taken on July 29, 2022

The aphelion occurs when the Earth is at its furthest point from the sun – usually about 152 million kilometres away. Typically, the distance from one to the other is roughly 150 million kilometres.

The post adds that because of the aphelion, people will experience extremely cold weather, more than usual, and the fluctuation “might” see flu-related illnesses rise.

The same claim was also shared in Kenya in English and in Europe, in Spanish and Portuguese.

But this is false.

Phenomenon has no effect on temperatures

Astronomers Genevieve Soucail and Andrea Sánchez, who spoke to AFP Fact Check in Uruguay, said the aphelion, an annual event which took place this year on July 4, 2022, has no effect on Earth’s temperature and human health.

Screenshot of image showing the 2021 aphelion. Photo: NASA

Sanchez said that while it is true that the distance between Earth and the sun changes during aphelion, “the change is very minimal” and is not significant enough to have an impact on our global temperature.

“Every year we experience aphelion,” said Sánchez, and “there is always confusion: [people] believe that the seasons are impacted by the distance between the Earth and sun, but this is not the case”.

The transition to aphelion or perihelion (the point nearest to the sun in the path of an orbiting celestial body) “generates a small difference in the luminous flux [received by the Earth], but this is very minimal and is not at all linked to weather differences,” said Soucail.

According to the two experts, changes in seasonal temperatures occur because of variations in solar insolation – which is the sun’s energy that reaches Earth – resulting from the tilt of our planet’s rotational axis.

This “determines that during a specific season, [the planet] receives more solar radiation in its southern hemisphere and that during another; [the same phenomenon applies] to the northern hemisphere,” said Sánchez.

Soucail said that “the average temperatures in summer in the northern hemisphere are higher than in the southern hemisphere,” even though “Earth is farther from the sun during summer in the northern hemisphere and … the perihelion is reached when it is summer in the southern hemisphere.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed to AFP Fact Check on July 1, 2022, that it had not published any studies about aphelion and its possible health consequences.

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