Where Does the Sun Rise and Set?

SolarCalendarJanuary 30, 2019

You may have noticed that the Sun doesn’t always rise and set due east and due west. So, where does the Sun actually rise and set?

Though it does rise from an easterly direction, it’s also slightly more north or south in the sky day by day. That means we actually see the sunrises and sunsets in a slightly different place along the horizon every single day. 

Here’s why. 

Where Does the Sun Rise and Set? 

From our perspective standing on the Earth’s surface, the Sun appears to pass over us, coming from the east and disappearing over the western horizon. 

Of course, what we actually experience is Earth rotating on its axis as it makes its way around the sun on its yearly orbit. 

Let’s say you could look at Earth from high above the North Pole. From your perspective up there, Earth would be spinning counter-clockwise, and your home on Earth would come to face the sun (from the east) and then turn away from it (moving west) within about 24 hours. 

Why does the Sun only rise exactly due east and set due west twice a year? Because the Earth’s axis is tilted.

If the Earth’s axis wasn’t tilted, the Sun would shine directly on the Celestial Equator every day as the Earth spun around. But since it’s tilted, the sun shines a little more or a little less on a northern or southern latitude of the Earth every day, depending on the time of year. 

To be exact, Earth’s spin and its axis tilt combine to make the Sun appear 23.5 degrees north or south of the equator at its most northern and southern points.1 This happens twice a year at the summer and winter solstices. 

When the Sun Rises Due East and Sets Due West

Solstices and equinoxes are specific days that happen every year as the Earth treks its course around the Sun. As this happens, the sun’s rays shine for longer or shorter depending on where you are on Earth. 

Vernal Equinox

In our calendar year, the first milestone is the Vernal Equinox. “Vernal” comes from the Latin word “vernalis,” derived from the Latin word for spring.2 This is an exciting time for those of in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the day when the sun crosses the celestial equator to make its way back north. 

This happens around March 20th, and means days filled with more sun are on the way. It’s also one of the two days of the year when the sun will rise and fall due east and west.3

Summer Solstice

The next solar milestone in our year comes on the June 21 summer solstice. On this day, the sun shines at its furthest point north above the equator. This is known as the “longest day of the year” because it’s the day we get the most sunshine within 24 hours. 

Autumnal Equinox

Around September 21, the sun has made its way back to the equator moving south. This is the one other day of the year when you can see the sunrise due east and the sunset due west. It’s known as the Autumnal Equinox. 

Winter Solstice

Lastly, December 21 brings the winter solstice which is popularly known as “the shortest day of the year.” It’s the day when the position of the sun is the farthest south it will go, and the day with the least amount of sunlight for those of us in the northern hemisphere. 

It’s a dark day. But remember, after the winter solstice, the days start to get incrementally longer as the Earth tilts back to let the sun shine for longer in the north.  

Sunrise, Sunset, and Solar

No matter your latitude, you can probably benefit from installing solar panels to soak up the sun and supply your own clean energy. 

Though the southern and western United States get more sun on average, solar is booming even up north and along the east coast. 

So, whether you’re up north or down south, if you live in a city or state with high electricity rates, solar could save you quite a bit on your electric bill every month. Get in touch with us today to find out more. 

 

Endnotes
1 http://spaces.imperial.edu/russell.lavery/astr100/lectures/ASTR100Topic02.html
2
 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vernal
3
 https://physics.weber.edu/schroeder/ua/sunandseasons.html

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