After latitude and the time of year.

After watching this video, you should be able to describe the Sun’s path through the sky at different latitudes and different times of year: particularly the equinoxes and solstices. A short quiz will follow.

The Sun’s Path

The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

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But it’s not really as simple as that. The path the Sun takes through the sky depends on a number of factors. It depends on where you are on the surface of the Earth and on the time of year.Where you are on the surface of the Earth – east to west – otherwise known as your longitude, doesn’t affect the path of the Sun. What does affect it is your latitude.

Latitude is the angular distance of a place north or south of the Earth’s equator in degrees. A latitude of zero degrees is on the equator of the Earth, while 90 degrees south is the South Pole, and 90 degrees north is the North Pole.If you live north of the Equator, the Sun rises in the East, then takes an arc across the Southern sky, before setting in the West. If you live south of the Equator, the Sun rises in the East, and then takes an arc across the Northern sky, before setting in the West. The exact angle that it reaches above the horizon depends on your latitude and the time of year.

At 40 Degrees North

A latitude of 40 degrees north means that you are 40 degrees above the equator. New York City and Madrid are two cities at about this latitude.

In its arc across the sky, the Sun reaches its highest point at noon. This high point is super high in winter and super low in summer. The deepest day of winter is called the winter solstice and is on December 21st in the Northern hemisphere.

This is when the days are shortest, and the Sun at noon is as low as it will ever be. The peak of summer is called the summer solstice and is on June 21st in the Northern hemisphere. This is when the days are longest, and the Sun at noon is as high as it will ever be.

At 40 degrees north, the Sun rises in the East and arcs across the Southern sky to set in the West. On June 21st, that arc is the highest it will be. On December 21st, that arc is the lowest it will be. At other times of the year, it’s in between. The arc is right in the middle when the days and nights are 12 hours each on March 21st (the spring equinox) and September 21st (the autumn equinox). At Noon on either of the equinoxes, when the Sun is at its highest, it will be exactly 40 degrees above the horizon – the same as the latitude.

At the North Pole

The North Pole is at a latitude of 90 degrees north. At the spring equinox (March 21st) and the autumn equinox (September 21st), the Sun will move right along the horizon from east to west, moving along the Southern sky. Half of the Sun will be above the horizon, and half of the Sun will be below the horizon all day. It’s like a constant sunset.

At the winter solstice (December 21st), the Sun still goes from east to west. But this time it arcs below the horizon, so if you were standing at the North Pole, you would never see it. It is dark all the time.At the summer solstice (June 21st), the Sun starts in the East and sets in the West again, but this time it takes its highest possible arc across the sky. At noon, it will be 23.

4 degrees above the horizon – the same angle as the Earth’s tilt. This is as high as the Sun ever gets at the North Pole.

At the South Pole

The South Pole is at a latitude of 90 degrees south. At the spring equinox and the autumn equinox, the Sun will move right along the horizon from east to west, moving along the Northern sky.

Half of the Sun will be above the horizon, and half of the Sun will be below the horizon all day. Just like at the North Pole, it’s a constant sunset. The only difference is that the Sun is in the Northern sky, not the South.At the winter solstice (which is June 21st in the Southern hemisphere), the Sun still goes from east to west.

But this time it arcs below the horizon, so if you were standing at the South Pole, you would never see it. It is dark all the time.At the summer solstice (which is December 21st in the Southern hemisphere), the Sun starts in the East and sets in the West again, but this time it takes its highest possible arc across the sky. At noon, it will be 23.4 degrees above the horizon – the same angle as the Earth’s tilt. This is as high as the Sun ever gets at the South Pole.

At the Equator

The Equator is at a latitude of 0 degrees. At the spring equinox, the Sun will start in the East, arc directly overhead and set in the West.When it’s summer in the Northern hemisphere, the Sun will arc across the Northern sky, but is still pretty close to being directly above.

Even in the height of summer in the Northern hemisphere (June 21st) the Sun at the equator never gets lower than 66.6 degrees above the Northern horizon.When it’s summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Sun will arc across the Southern sky, but again, it’s still pretty close to being directly above.

Even in the height of summer in the Southern hemisphere (December 21st), the Sun at the equator never gets lower than 66.6 degrees above the Southern horizon.

Lesson Summary

The Sun always takes a path from east to west across the sky during the day. The only thing that varies is whether that path goes directly above you, or arcs across the Southern sky, or arcs across the Northern sky or even arcs below the horizon. The starting and ending points are the same.The exact path of the Sun depends on what your latitude is: whether you’re at the equator (0 degrees of latitude), the North Pole (90 degrees north), the South Pole (90 degrees south) or in between.

The exact path also depends on the time of year. In the summer, the path of the Sun is highest above the horizon. In the winter, the path of the Sun is lowest above the horizon.At noon, during the spring and summer equinoxes, the Sun will be the same angle above the horizon as your latitude. At 40 degrees north, it will be 40 degrees above the Southern horizon.

At 40 degrees south, it will be 40 degrees above the Northern horizon. At the North Pole, it will be 0 degrees above the Southern horizon (right along it). At the South Pole, it will be 0 degrees above the Northern horizon (right along it). And at the equator, it will be directly above (90 degrees above the horizon).

Learning Outcomes

When you are finished, you should be able to:

  • Explain the importance of latitude in determining the Sun’s path across the sky
  • Describe how the Sun appears to travel along different latitudes
  • Recall the dates of the equinoxes and the solstices
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