An animation shows how the seasons change with the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
The angle of the Earth causes very specific weather patterns and daylight over the course of a year.
Most places experience four seasons, but they are not as pronounced near the equator.
Astronomers believe that billions of years ago, a Mars-sized object collided with Earth, knocking our planet over and leaving it slanted.
That ancient bump caused Earth’s seasons — times of year with very specific weather patterns and daylight hours that vary depending on latitude.
Most places experience four noticeable seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Watch how the seasons change with Earth’s orbit around the sun below:
Eleanor Lutz, currently graphic editor at The New York Times, created the animation in 2019 using open data from NASA, USGS, and Natural Earth.
“I’ve always been very interested in design that combines science and art. When I learned to code as part of my Ph.D. in biology, I wanted to apply coding to my design work as well,” Lutz told Insider. “I decided to make a series of astronomy maps because there is a lot of wonderful open source data in the astronomy community.”
The image shows how seasonal changes in precipitation and temperature affect Earth’s ice, vegetation, clouds and sunlight.
The tilt of the Earth relative to the sun causes the seasons
The Earth is currently tilted 23.4 degrees from the plane where most solar system objects revolve around the sun, NASA explains. That means that while our planet travels in a near-circular orbit around the sun, different parts of the world receive different amounts of sunlight over the course of a year.
The Earth is divided into northern and southern hemispheres by an imaginary ring called the equator. When the Northern Hemisphere leans toward the sun in June, it experiences summer. That’s when the sun’s rays hit that part of the earth more directly, heating the earth’s surface. When it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Six months later, in December, the situation is reversed: The Northern Hemisphere has tilted away from the sun and is experiencing winter weather.
The tilt of the Earth’s axis also determines the length of daylight hours, which are shortest in any hemisphere in winter. This is most dramatic at the poles of the planet, above the Arctic Circle.
In Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost city in the US, darkness lasts from mid-November to mid-January.
Near the equator, the seasons are less pronounced, because the sun shines at about the same angle every day. There the day length remains almost 12 hours during all seasons.
The tilt of the Earth is relatively stable, but there are some small shifts over large time scales (tens of thousands of years). According to NASA, the angle is slowly getting smaller.
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