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Is aphelion responsible for changes in Nigeria’s weather conditions?

Claim: A viral post claims aphelion is responsible for changes in weather conditions.

Is aphelion responsible for changes in Nigeria’s weather conditions?

Verdict: False! The earth’s distance from the sun does not affect the weather conditions. 

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A post circulated on social media – particularly WhatsApp and Facebook –  claimed that Aphelion, a cosmological event, is responsible for the current weather conditions in Nigeria and other countries worldwide.

It claims the weather is expected to be colder from now till March 30, 2023, because the earth will be further from the sun (Aphelion phenomenon). 

It also advised the public to boost their immunity as the adverse weather conditions caused by this phenomenon might bring about respiratory diseases. It remains unclear who authored the viral post.

A part of the post on WhatsApp reads, “The distance from Earth to the Sun is five light minutes or 90,000,000 km. The Aphelion phenomenon takes us 152,000,000 km away from the sun, that is, 66% further away. The air will be colder; our body is not used to this temperature, and the difference is great. We must keep our health conditions to the maximum; it does not matter if it is cloudy or sunny. The increase in the cold will feel the same!”

Is aphelion responsible for changes in Nigeria’s weather conditions?
A screenshot of the post on WhatsApp.

Some Facebook users shared the same post. While some used it to inform their followers, others used it to advertise their products. Links to some of the posts are contained here, here, here and here

Checks on the post’s comment section showed unsuspecting public members believed the content without ascertaining its veracity.

This is because the post is coming amid complaints by some Nigerians over the current weather condition in the country, as can be seen here, here and here.

Those resharing the post take it as a justification for the current weather issues in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, DUBAWA observed that posts about the Aphelion phenomenon on Facebook had been shared repeatedly over the years. 

What is Aphelion and Phelion? 

Aphelion, in astronomy, is the point of the earth’s elliptical orbit farthest away from the sun. Conversely, Perihelion is the point in the earth’s orbit when the earth is closest to the sun. 

Earth’s Aphelion is about 94.5 million miles or 152 million km from the sun, while the Perihelion is 91.4 million miles or 147 million km. Meanwhile, the earth’s average distance from the sun is 93 million miles (150 million km), also known as one astronomical unit (AU).

However, as the earth orbits the sun in an elliptical path, the distance between the earth and the sun varies throughout the year.

The viral WhatsApp post noted that the aphelion phenomenon causes a 66% difference in the earth’s distance from the sun. However, NASA explained that “the eccentricity of our planet’s orbit is mild; aphelion and perihelion differ from the mean Sun-Earth distance by less than 2%”. 

Also, the dates for this year’s aphelion and perihelion occurrence have been predicted by Astropixels, which recorded dates for the two events from 2001 to 2100. 

Is aphelion responsible for changes in Nigeria’s weather conditions?
A table showing Earth’s aphelion and perihelion dates from 2001 to 2050. Source: Astropixels.com

The respective dates for the Perihelion and aphelion occurrence are January 4, 2023, and July 6, 2023. This means the claim that aphelion was already occurring in February to last till March 2023 is incorrect. 

Also, the distance from the sun doesn’t determine the seasons or weather but rather by the tilt of the earth’s axis of rotation, known as obliquity, according to a NASA report.

The body noted that it is a common misconception that the earth’s varying distance from the sun is responsible for seasons but disclaimed, “In fact, the 23.5-degree tilt of our planet’s spin axis is more important. The tilt of the north pole toward the Sun in June causes summer north of the equator, while summer south of the equator comes six months later when the south pole is facing the Sun. The ellipticity of Earth’s orbit does cause a small change in solar heating from July (aphelion) to January (perihelion), but it’s not the dominant factor in shaping seasonal weather patterns.”

This was also confirmed in a report by the National Geographic Society which explained that the cooling effects of more indirect sunlight cause autumn and winter in the hemisphere that is leaning away from the sun. 

Conclusion

The claim that aphelion is responsible for changes in weather conditions is false. Instead, it is caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis. 

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