The Sun's Changing Path Through the Sky

Seasons and Daylight

By this point in your life you surely have noticed that the length of the day changes throughout the year.  For example, in the winter we have much shorter days, and much longer nights.  In contrast, during the summer the sun stays out much later.  The changing number of daylight hours throughout the year is an effect of our tilted axis and our revolution, and is closely related to seasons.

In this lesson, we will learn about 4 very specific points in our orbit around the Sun that mark the beginning of each of the seasons.

Winter Solstice

  • December 21st
  • The first day of winter
  • Shortest number of daylight hours
  • Sun reaches it's maximum altitude about 42 degrees above the horizon
  • Sun rises in the SE part of the sky and sets in the SW part of the sky.

Summer Solsice

  • June 21st
  • First day of summer
  • Longest number of daylight hours
  • Sun reaches it maximum altitude at about 89 degrees above the horizon
  • Sun rises in the NE part of the sky and sets in the NW part of the sky

Spring and Fall Equinox

  • March 21st and Sept 23
  • Equinoxes are days that are perfectly balanced
  • 12 hours of daylight 12 hours of night
  • The Sun reaches its maximum altitude at about 65 degrees above the horizon
  • The Sun rises EXACTLY East and sets EXACTLY WEST

 

NOTICE THAT NO MATTER WHAT TIME OF YEAR IT IS, FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE IN NY STATE THE SUN PATH ALWAYS TILTS OVER TOWARDS THE SOUTH. THIS IS NOT TRUE FOR DIFFERENT LOCATIONS:

AT THE EQUATOR

The Sun's path isn't tilted at all, it goes straight up, then straight down

 

In the Southern Hemisphere

The Sun's path always tilts over towards the North.