Anonymous asked in Science & MathematicsAstronomy & Space · 1 decade ago

If the earth was a couple centimeters closer to the sun, would we all burn?

Someone said this in chemistry today, but I just want a more credible source.


I would love a detailed explanation.

12 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    No, the Earth actually has an elliptical orbit, and our closest approach to the sun does not burn us, just as our furthest distance from it does not freeze us. A few centimeters or even many kilometers is not going to matter much. In fact, mountaintops are several kilometers closer to the sun than the oceans. Your person in chemistry class should close the books and work on common sense once in a while.

    By the way, just to dispel the too common myth, where I mention above the earth sometimes being closer to and sometimes further from the sun, these things have nothing to do with summer and winter. A lot of people think they do, but they don't. Summer and winter are caused by the tilt in the Earth's axis of rotation relative to its plane of revolution around the sun, but since it is not part of the direct answer to the question you asked, I will spare you the detailed explanation here.

    EDIT: I see where you said you would love a detailed explanation, and I assume you are referring to my post, so let me see if I can come up with an explanation that makes sense without drawings.

    The Earth is tilted at about 23 degrees from being exactly "straight up and down", or 23 degrees from being exactly perpendicular to the plane on which it revolves around the sun. If the Earth were not tilted, the sun would always appear to pass directly overhead at the equator, and, for example, far north of the equator, the sun would always appear to pass 23 degrees to the south of directly overhead, and so on.

    But because the Earth is tilted, this place 23 degrees north of the equator will get the sun passing directly overhead on the summer solstice, and the sun will never come more than 46 degrees from the vertical (almost exactly as close to the horizon as to vertical) during mid day on the winter solstice.

    Before I go further, I want to point out that these numbers, the degrees, are an approximation, but they are relatively accurate because of the sun's great distance from Earth.

    Now, why does the position of the sun in the sky matter? Because sunlight striking the Earth at an angle means the same amount of light and heat are spread over a larger area. In fact, in our example above, the midday sunlight hitting this point north of the equator during the summer solstice is about 1.4 times as intense as during the winter solstice. To get this change in intensity of sunlight by moving the position of the Earth relative to the sun would require our orbit be roughly 20 million miles closer to the sun or further from the sun (way different from the few centimeters your classmate mentioned), and our orbit is not that elliptical.

    Note that while the point 23 degrees north of the equator is having the midday sun pass directly overhead, a point 23 degrees south of the equator is having their midday sun pass roughly 46 degrees from the vertical. It is summer in the north and winter in the south. They are always 6 months apart in their seasons, so the spring equinox for one is the fall equinox for the other. This is why Santa wears shorts in Australia and thick winter gear in Europe and the USA, because he comes just after the summer solstice in Australia and just after the winter solstice in the north, even though it is the same day (except in nations that mark Christmas by the old Julian calendar, but that is really a different topic).

    Hope this helps.

  • 1 decade ago

    From Aphelion (around July 5) when Earth is farthest to Perihelion (January 4) when Sun is nearest, the difference is about 5 million km. It is about a thirtieth of the average distance.

  • 1 decade ago

    over the course of a year the earth's distance from the sun varies by about 5 million kilometers (with an average of about 150 million kilometers). so you tell me, do we alternately burn and freeze? I don't think so. obviously there will be a range of distances that allow a comfortable temperature, but the range is nowhere near that narrow. even the most conservative estimates suggest that the habitable zone is millions of kilometers wide.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    NOOOOO!!!! in the northern hemisphere, the earth is 3 million miles closer to the sun in the winter than it is in the summer. centimeters wouldn't do anything. meters, kilometers. a few million kilometers would not make much a difference.

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  • 1 decade ago

    no in fact we are never always the same distance from the sun. Depending on the time of year we can be many many many miles closer or further from the sun

    Source(s): physical geography class
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Thats Ludicrous . . of course not.

    Stand on your tip toes and you're a whole 4 inches closer to the sun !

  • 1 decade ago

    Never believe astronomy stories told in a Chemistry class.

  • 4 years ago

    Oh God! They SAID the world would end in 2012, and I did not believe them!!! **** "i will see you hidden beneath the rocks begging they would collapse and crush you. ask a christian what that means. maybe 1 will have pitty on you and pray." And they wonder why we are rude to them. Because you are so horrible, that's why.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    There is a golden distance the earth can be in for survival. 200.000 miles closer or 200.000 miles further from the sun we would still survive.

  • 1 decade ago

    he is full of crap, we would still be a huge distance within the habitable zone of our solar system.

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