Copyright

The Sun's Path Through the Local Sky

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Every day, the sun appears to travel east to west across the sky before making its descent. Explore the sun's path through the local skies of locations around latitude 40 degrees north, the North Pole, the South Pole, and the Equator. Updated: 11/07/2021

The Sun's Path

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

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Using the Sun & Stars to Determine Latitude & Longitude

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 The Sun's Path
  • 1:10 At 40 Degrees North
  • 2:37 At the North Pole
  • 3:35 At the South Pole
  • 4:38 At the Equator
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Teacher
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account