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The Earth's Axis Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Farrell

Jen has taught Science in accredited schools in North & South America for thirteen years and has a degree in Sociology (Epidemiology & Aids Research).

Have you ever wondered why the Earth leans sideways? In this lesson, we will investigate why the Earth is tilted sideways, what caused this to happen, and why the Earth's tilt matters.

Earth's Axis

Imagine a merry-go-round at an amusement park or on a playground. The ride moves in a circle as the people riding it rotate around the ride's axis point.

Earth also rotates on an axis point. An axis is an imaginary line an object turns around. This imaginary line runs directly through the object's center, from the north to the south poles. Although we can't feel the Earth spinning, it makes one complete turn, each day, around its own axis.

Earth's Axial Tilt

Have you ever leaned back in your chair, carefully balancing on the back two legs? Your position in the chair is tilted, assuming you don't fall backwards. The Earth has a similar position in space, which scientist describe as a tilt. That's right - rather than sit straight up, the Earth leans to one side. Scientist believe that Earth's tilt is the result of our planet having collided with another large object. This large crash not only knocked our planet off kilter, it dented a large hole on the surface of Earth, and the debris that flew into space later formed our Earth's moon.

Earth sits at a 23.5 degree angle from vertical, as shown in the picture below. Other planets also have their own unique tilts, or positions in space. Uranus has the greatest tilt in the solar system, practically laying on its side at 97 degrees!


Earth
tilt


A spinning top appears stable as it quickly spins in circles, but the slower it moves, the more you can see it wobble back and forth. Earth also has a very slow wobble as it spins on its axis. This wobble happens because the axis is slowly changing directions. As the axis of the Earth wobbles, it slowly makes a circle. In fact, it is so slow that it takes nearly 26,000 years to complete one circle.

Why Does Our Tilt Matter?

One of the most important questions in science is the word, 'why'? Thankfully, scientists thought to ask why our Earth's tilt matters, because this incredible discovery led to a better understanding of our seasons.

The tilt of the Earth is what causes the sun to shine on different latitudes of the Earth during different times of the year. Latitude tells us how far a place is north or south of the equator, and it's measured in degrees. For example, the state of Hawaii is located at about 20 degrees north of the equator, which means its latitude is about 20 degrees, while Alaska is farther north at 66 degrees.

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