The seasons are caused due to the combined effect of the earth’s revolution and the tilt of its axis in the same direction throughout the year. In general, spring, summer, autumn and winter are the four seasons (Figure 2.12). The latitude at which the sun appears directly overhead changes as the earth orbits the sun. The sun appears to follow a yearly pattern of northward and southward motion in the sky, known as the ‘apparent movement of the sun’. It gives an impression that the sun is continuously swinging north and south of the equator. Actually it is the earth that is moving around the sun on its tilted axis. It varies when observed on a daily and monthly basis, at different times of the year. On 21 March and 23 September the sun rises precisely in the east and sets exactly in the west.
You already knew that the sunrays are vertical at noon. The vertical rays fall on a small area, giving more heat.
Equinoxes occur when the earth reaches the points in its orbits where the equatorial and the orbital planes intersect, causing the sun to appear directly overhead at the equator. During the equinoxes the periods of day light and darkness are equal all over the world. On 21 March the sun is directly overhead at the equator. Throughout the world, on this day all the places experience almost equal hours of day and night. This position of the sun is called spring equinox. Again on 23 September the sun is directly overhead on the equator and it is called autumn equinox.
Neither pole is inclined towards the sun. The rays of the sun fall vertically on the equator. All the places have equal days and nights as both the poles receive the rays of the sun. It is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere. This day (21 March) is known as spring equinox.
Neither pole of the earth is inclined towards the sun. The rays of the sun fall vertically on the equator. All the places have equal days and nights. It is autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere. This day (23 September) when sun’s rays for fall verticaly on the equator, is known as autumnal equinox (Figure 2.13).
The North Pole is inclined or tilted towards the sun. It, therefore, experiences complete light for 24 hours. The South Pole is tilted away from the sun so it is in complete darkness for 24 hours. The rays of the sun fall vertically at the tropic of cancer (23½º N). In the Northern hemisphere, the days are longer than the nights (Table 2.2). It is summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere. The day 21 June is known as summer solstice.
The South Pole is inclined towards the sun and the North Pole is away from it. The rays of the sun fall vertically at the tropic of Capricorn (23½º S). The greater part of the southern hemisphere gets the direct rays of the sun so the days are long and the nights are short here. In the northern hemisphere the nights are longer than the days at this time. The southern hemisphere has summer. The northern hemisphere has winter. This day (22 December), when the sun’s rays fall vertically on the Tropic of Capricorn, is known as winter solstice.
Let us understand the effect of the revolution of the earth on the length of the days and the nights. The duration of the daylight varies with latitude and seasons.
An eclipse is a complete or partial obscuration of light from a celestial body and it passes through the shadow of another celestial body. The eclipses are of two types. They are:
It occurs on New Moon days, when the moon is between the Sun and the Earth. Thus it obscures a part of the Sun viewed from the Earth, but only from a small area of the world. It lasts only for a few minutes. A partial solar eclipse (Figure 2.14) happens when the moon partially covers the disc of the sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes centrally across the solar disc.
Geo connects History
Secret to Great Pyramid’s Near Perfect Alignment Possibly Found!
The Great Pyramid of Giza, 4,500 years ago, is an ancient feat of engineering. Now an archaeologist has figured out how the Egyptians may have aligned the pyramid almost perfectly along the cardinal points, north-south-east-west. Egyptians may have used the autumn equinox. Methods used by the ancient Egyptians to align the pyramids along the cardinal points are accurate.
On the day of the fall equinox, a surveyor placed a rod into the ground and tracked its shadow throughout the day. The result was a line running almost perfectly east-west. The Egyptians could have determined the day of the fall equinox by counting forward 91 days after the summer solstice.
During a total solar eclipse, the moon’s shadow is short enough to cover the whole sun. The outer regions still glow and look bright as a ring. Such a phenomenon is called Diamond Ring.
It occurs on a Full Moon position when the earth is between the sun and the moon. The earth’s shadow obscures the moon as viewed from the earth. A partial lunar eclipse can be observed when only a part of the moon’s surface is obscured by earth’s umbra (Figure 2.15). A penumbral lunar eclipse happens when the moon travels through the faint penumbral portion of the earth’s shadow. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth umbra obscures the entire the moon’s surface. Lunar eclipse can be seen from anywhere on the night side of the Earth. It lasts for a few hours due to the smaller size of the moon.
The changing angles between the earth, the sun and the moon determine the phases of the moon. Phases of the moon (Figure 2.16) start from the ‘New Moon’ every month. Then, only a part of the Moon is seen bright called ‘Crescent’, which develops into the ‘first quarter’. With the increasing brightness it turns into three quarters known as ‘Gibbous’ and then it becomes a ‘Full Moon’. These stages are the waxing moon. After the full moon, the moon starts waning or receding through the stages of Gibbous, last quarter, crescent, and finally becomes invisible as dark New Moon.
It is evident from the table that the duration of daylight is 12 hours throughout the year at the equator only. As one moves away from the equator, the seasonal variations in the duration of daylight increase. The seasonal variations in the duration of daylight are maximum at the polar region.
Variation in the amount of solar radiation received:
If the earth were a flat surface, oriented at right angle to the sun, all the places on the earth would have received the same amount of radiation. But the earth is spherical/ geoid. Hence the sunrays do not heat the higher latitudes of the earth as much as the tropics. On any given day only the places located at particular latitude receive vertical rays from the sun. As we move north or south of this location, the sun’s rays strike at decreasing angles. The yearly fluctuations in the angle of the sun’s rays and the length of the days change with the continual change of the earth’s position in its orbit around the sun at an inclination of 66½ to the orbital plane.
Away from the equator, the sun’s rays strike the earth’s surface at particular angle. The slanting rays are spread over a large area and do not heat with the same intensity as the direct rays. As we go pole wards, the rays spread over the regions beyond the Arctic and the Antarctic circles in an extremely slanting manner. This is how we get the various temperature zones.
Lower the degree of latitude; higher the temperature. Not only that, the rays striking at a low angle must travel through a greater thickness of the atmosphere than the rays striking at a higher angle. The rays striking at a lower angle are subject to greater depletion by reflection and absorption by the atmosphere.
The spherical shape of the earth along with its movement around the sun causes differences in the angles at which the sun’s rays fall on the earth’s surface. This causes a difference in the distribution of heat on the earth’s surface.
As a result, the world has been divided into three distinct heat zones or temperature zones. They are the Torrid zone, Temperate zone and Frigid zone. You will learn more about it under the unit atmosphere.