Shop Windows to the Universe

Arches National Park Geology Tour provides an extensive, visually rich description of the geology of Arches, by Deborah Ragland, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
The landscape and weather change greatly during the year in regions that have four distinct seasons.
Click on image for full size
Images Courtesy of Corel

What Causes the Seasons?

Let's get rid of some common misconceptions about the seasons. The Earth's orbit is in the shape of an ellipse, so that sometimes the Earth is a little bit closer to the Sun than at other times. Is this the cause of the seasons?

You can imagine that if the seasons were caused by the Earth's orbit, people in the northern hemisphere and people in the southern hemisphere would have the same seasons. For example, if winter occured because the Earth was far away from the Sun, everyplace on the Earth would be cold at the same time.

But this is not what happens! Summer in the northern hemisphere occurs at the same time as winter in the south, and vice-versa. It turns out that the Earth's orbit is nearly perfectly circular, and the difference between its closest point and its furthest point is very small. In fact, the Earth is furthest away from the Sun in June when it is summer in the northern hemisphere.

The Earth is a very special planet in many ways. Just as Earth's unique atmosphere and its distance from the Sun work together to make Earth the right temperature to support life, Earth's orbit and its rotation work together to create the seasons.

Last modified June 26, 2008 by Vanessa Pearce.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

North and South: Opposite Seasons

NASA's Earth Observatory has recently started making images of the entire surface of the Earth every month. There are no clouds in the images because they combine many pictures taken at different times...more

Archeoastronomy

"The movements of the heavenly bodies are an admirable thing, well known and manifest to all peoples. There are no people, no matter how barbaric and primitive, that do not raise up their eyes, take note,...more

Full Moon Names

You may have heard people refer to a Full Moon in the autumn as the "Harvest Moon" or the "Hunter's Moon". Native Americans in the eastern and northern parts of North America had special names for the...more

Antarctic Weather

Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth, and since it’s home to the South Pole it is probably no surprise that the weather here is very cold—in fact, Antarctica is quite a bit colder than even...more

En Route to Antarctica - First Stop New Zealand

Hello Everyone! We are not in Antarctica yet - but we are getting closer! We are now in Christchurch, New Zealand. We still have to get all our Extreme Cold Weather Gear from the Clothing Distribution...more

What are the results of VOCALS?

Long after the VOCALS campaign is completed, the scientists’ work will continue. They must process, review, and study the data to determine what has been learned. Many model runs will be made and analyzed....more

Saturn's Southern Polar Vortex

Saturn's South Pole is an extremely stormy and surprisingly warm region. A vast, hurricane-like storm centered on the South Pole dominates the area. Astonishingly, the pole is also warmer than any other...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA