# Seasons on Earth LESSON

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1 LESSON 4 Seasons on Earth On Earth, orange and red autumn leaves stand out against the blue sky. NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION (NOAA) PHOTO LIBRARY/NOAA CENTRAL LIBRARY INTRODUCTION Nearly every place on Earth has four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience seasons, but they experience different seasons at the same time. When it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa. The shape and tilt of Earth on its axis affects the angle at which the Sun s rays pass through the atmosphere, and the length of daylight that an area experiences. In this lesson, you will read about seasons and observe how the relative positions of the Sun and Earth change throughout the year. You will investigate the tilt of Earth s axis as it orbits the Sun, and you will see how the tilted Earth s orbit relates to seasons and changing shadows. You also will return to the software program you used in Lesson 3 to analyze the position of the North Star, as well as sunrise and sunset data over the year at different latitudes. You will OBJECTIVES FOR THIS LESSON Model Earth s orbit. Identify Polaris as the current North Star. Compare sunrise and sunset times at different latitudes throughout the year. Relate changes in the apparent path of the Sun and the length of daylight to Earth s orbit on its tilted axis. Create a working definition of the term revolution. Identify orbit as its synonym. 4 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

3 4. Watch as your teacher demonstrates how Earth s axis can be fixed on one star as it orbits the Sun, as shown in Figure Read The Reasons for Seasons in this lesson. Discuss the questions with the class. Figure 4.1 The axis of this globe is fixed on the same point in the room as it orbits the Mini Maglite. 44 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

4 Inquiry 4.1 Investigating Seasons on Earth PROCEDURE 1.. Insert the rod labeled E through your globe to form an axis. Stick the rod of your globe into the center hole of Side B of the SEM Board. If you have a protractor, measure the degree to which the axis is tilted. It should tilt approximately 3.5 degrees, as shown in Figure Mark your home location on the globe using a small bead-sized amount of modeling clay and the tip of your toothpick, as in Lesson 3 (see Figure 3.7). This will serve as a miniature shadow stick. How can you use these materials to recreate winter and summer shadows on your globe? Discuss your ideas with your group. Figure 4. Setting up the Sun-Earth-Moon Board STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 45

5 5. Place a removable dot in the center of your workspace. Place four additional removable dots approximately 30 cm from that dot to form a cross. Label the center dot S. Label the outside dots A, B, C, and D for the four seasons, as shown in Figure Position the SEM Board so that the rod of your globe is approximately over the dot labeled A. Position the board so that the hole on the board marked 1 is closest to your S dot, as shown in Figure cm 30 cm 30 cm 30 cm Figure 4.3 Place the removable dots on your table, floor, or desk. Position and label them as shown. If the dots were a compass, the A would be north, the B would be west, the C would be south, and the D would be east. The S would be the center of the compass. 46 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

8 REFLECTING ON WHAT YOU VE DONE 1.. Share your group s results. Your teacher may ask you to demonstrate what you did. Answer the following questions in your science notebooks, and then discuss them with your class: A. Describe and draw the position of the Sun and Earth during winter in the Northern Hemisphere. B. Describe and draw the position of the Sun and Earth during summer in the Northern Hemisphere. C. Why are summer and winter 6 months apart? D. What is happening in the Southern Hemisphere when it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere? E. Earth travels in a slightly elliptical orbit around the Sun. Therefore, Earth is closer to the Sun in December than it is in June. If Earth is closer to the Sun in December, why is December in the Northern Hemisphere colder than June? F. What did you learn in this lab that helps you to describe one reason why winter is colder than summer? STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 49

11 11. Reset your date to June 1. Repeat Steps 5 10 and record your data in Table 1. Then do the same for September 1 and December Use the data in Table 1 to complete the graph on Student Sheet 4.3b. Connect the sunrise, sunset, and angle of separation points using an arc (curved line). Use your key to color code each month s curve. A sample of what the ecliptic looks like in June at the equator is shown in Figure 4.6. Angle of Separation ( ) A.M. 6 A.M. 1 NOON 6 P.M. Time (hours) 1 MIDNIGHT Figure 4.6 Sample drawing of the ecliptic for Quito, Ecuador, on June 1 5 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

13 The Reasons for Seasons Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth orbits around the Sun. Earth also rotates on its axis, which is currently tilted 3.5 degrees to the plane of its orbit. While the tilt of Earth s axis will change very little over your lifetime, the part of Earth that is exposed to the most solar energy energy from the Sun does change, and on a regular basis. This is because the tilted Earth orbits the Sun. What do you think causes the seasons? Many people believe that seasons depend on the distance between Earth and the Sun. That might seem logical, but consider this: Earth travels in an ellipse, or oval, around the Sun. Due to this ellipse, Earth is slightly closer to the Sun in December than in June. If the distance from the Sun were responsible for how warm Earth is, it would mean that everyone on Earth would have summer in December. You know this is not true if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. It is Earth s atmosphere and the tilt of its axis that are responsible for the changes in seasons. These factors affect the amount of solar energy that reaches each part of Earth at any time. The tilt of Earth on its axis affects the angle at which the Sun s rays pass through the atmosphere and strike Earth s surface. The higher the Sun s angle, the more intense the solar radiation and the less atmosphere the rays must pass through. The lower the Sun s angle, the less intense the solar radiation and the more atmosphere the rays must pass through (see the illustrations). (continued) June December East South North West The angle of the Sun above the horizon is much greater in the summer than in the winter. 54 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

14 The higher the angle, the more intense the solar radiation. Because of the curvature of Earth, sunlight strikes the poles at a low angle. Rays striking Earth at a low angle must pass through more atmosphere. Earth s atmosphere absorbs and reflects solar energy. The more atmosphere the rays have to pass through, the less solar energy reaches Earth s surface. This is one reason the poles are colder than other parts of Earth. STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 55

15 The tilt of Earth also affects the length of daylight in any particular area. Between March 1 and September 1 on average, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun. During this period the surface of Earth in the Northern Hemisphere receives longer periods of daylight than the surface of Earth in the Southern Hemisphere. More direct sunlight for longer periods causes warmer weather. However, between September 1 and March 1, the Southern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun and has warmer weather. On December 1 (or December, depending on the year), the Southern Hemisphere celebrates the first day of summer called the summer solstice; on that same day, the Northern Hemisphere experiences its first day of winter the winter solstice! On two days of the year (somewhere around March 1 and September 1), the Sun is over Earth s equator and neither hemisphere tilts toward the Sun. On those two days, the surface of Earth in both hemispheres receives equal amounts of energy from the Sun. Night and day are almost equal in length all over the world except at the poles. These two days are called the equinox. (To remember this term, think of equal night. ) Equinoxes occur midway between the solstices. On average, December 1 has the shortest period of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. But December 1 is not usually the coldest day of the year because it takes several weeks in fall and early winter before the atmosphere and oceans cool off. There is a lag, or delay, in seasonal temperatures, and the coldest period in Northern Hemisphere: Summer March 1 Northern Hemisphere: Winter Sun June 1 Southern Hemisphere: Winter December 1 Southern Hemisphere: Summer September 1 Between March 1 and September 1, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun and has spring and summer. During that same time, the Southern Hemisphere tilts away from the Sun and has fall and winter. The equator is warm all year round. (Diagram is not drawn to scale.) 56 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

16 the Northern Hemisphere therefore may not arrive until early February. The same seasonal temperature delay occurs in spring and summer. The amount of solar energy that reaches each hemisphere affects the temperature of the Earth s surface. Even though the Sun is closer to Earth in winter than in summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun s rays do not hit Earth directly. The rays hit it at an angle after passing through the atmosphere. During winter, there are also fewer hours of daylight, which accounts for some of the chill of winter. Sun Earth Seasons are the result of uneven heating of Earth s surfaces. Seasons on Other Planets Did you know that other planets also have different seasons? The spin axis of Uranus, for example, points to the Sun. That means that Uranus is tilted about 98 degrees to the plane of the ecliptic (the plane along which the Sun exists), compared to Earth s current tilt of 3.5 degrees. With Uranus completely on its side, one hemisphere always has summer during half of Uranus s 84-year orbit around the Sun, while the other hemisphere doesn t experience summer until the second half of its 84-year orbit! This pattern creates 4-year seasons of warmth and cold on each end of Uranus. Other planets also have interesting relationships to the Sun that cause different seasonal characteristics. You will learn about them in Part of this module. QUESTIONS 1. What is the winter solstice, and when does it occur in the Northern Hemisphere?. Draw a picture of Earth s position relative to the Sun when the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing summer. 3. How long is winter on Uranus? Why? BY CALVIN J. HAMILTON Each planet is tilted slightly differently. Notice how Uranus is tilted 98 degrees on its axis as it revolves around the Sun. What other planet might have an unusual pattern of seasons? STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 57

17 Steering by the Stars How did sailors of centuries past find their way across the seas before the invention of the compass and the sextant? The earliest sailors followed the coastline as far as they could, using features on land to mark their location. But when their journey took them far from land, they relied on the sky. Early sailors knew that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and they used that knowledge to guide them. So if they sailed into the rising Sun, they knew they were heading east. If they turned to the right, putting the rising Sun on their left side, they knew that they were heading south. At night, these ancient mariners steered by the stars. The North Star proved a stable marker in the Northern Hemisphere because Earth s northern axis points to the North Celestial Pole (celestial means dealing with the sky; heavenly ). The North Star, Polaris, is the star currently closest to the North Celestial Pole. As Earth rotates on its axis, the stars in the night sky seem to move in a circle, because they are fixed relative to Earth. But the North Star remains in one spot in the Northern Hemisphere sky at all times, and all the other stars seem to rotate around it. The farther north a sailor traveled in the Northern Hemisphere, the higher the North Star appeared in the sky. The farther south one sailed in the Northern Hemisphere, the lower the star appeared in the sky. Little Dipper Sailors looked at stars and other celestial bodies through the telescope of this sextant. The angular distance of a star above the horizon was read off the sextant s scale. This way, sailors could calculate their positions. Polaris Big Dipper Polaris, the current North Star, is at the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. You can also find it by connecting the two stars in the pan of the Big Dipper. 58 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

18 Many sailors of old used a handy tool to help measure precisely how high or low a star was in the sky: their fingers! By holding his arms straight out in front of him, a mariner laid his fingers on top of each other to measure the height of a star such as the North Star from the horizon. Because the height of Polaris above the horizon is equal to the latitude at a particular location, sailors could use the star to estimate their loca- tion. They would, for example, turn west or east once a particular star selected for navigation was two finger-widths above the horizon. Very clever! Although the skies are still important in guiding ships, today s sailors use computer and satellite technology such as the Global Positioning System to guide their travels. Navigators have come a long way since the days of steering by the stars. NATIONAL OPTICAL ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY/ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITIES FOR RESEARCH IN ASTRONOMY/NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION This time exposure shows star trails that mirror Earth s rotation. It was taken with a camera aimed at the North Star over Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 59

19 North Celestial Pole 61 Angle of separation This illustration shows what the North Star looks like from Anchorage, Alaska (latitude 61 N). North Celestial Pole 19 Angle of separation This illustration shows what the North Star looks like from Mexico City, Mexico (latitude 19 N). 60 STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE

20 Constant as the North Star As constant as it seems, Polaris, the North Star that we see in our night sky, has not always been our North Star. This is because Earth wobbles on its axis as it rotates, like a spinning top. While a top can make one complete wobble in a second, it takes Earth 6,000 years to complete one wobble or precession. This means that Earth s axis points to different stars over the centuries. For example, around 3000 B.C., the North Celestial Pole pointed to Thuban, not Polaris. QUESTIONS 1. Before the invention of the compass, how did sailors determine if they were sailing east or west?. Why is Polaris called the North Star? 3. Why is Polaris a stable sky marker today? 4. What handy tool did sailors use to help them navigate? How did this tool work? 5. What is the relationship between the position of the North Star and latitude? STC/MS E ARTH IN S PACE 61

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