Reasons for the Seasons

June 9, 2009

If you have been outside lately, you may have noticed a slight increase in sweaty people around you, and potentially an increased amount of personal perspiration. You may long for the chill of the lukewarm Decembers Mother Nature promises you as a Houstonian. I have found myself, on occasion, cursing the sun and its inexorable inferno. “Why, WHY can’t we all live in Southern California???”

 …But why curse the weather and your resulting ridiculous air conditioning bills when you can have WAY more fun trying to understand the heat source! The seasons, or the regular change of weather, happen because of the planet’s orientation to the sun. There is a common misconception that they occur because of the earth’s elliptical (like an oval) orbit, making it closer to and further from the center of our solar system at different times throughout our year. However, the ellipse that the earth follows is very nearly a circle, so this theory just doesn’t hold water.

Creative Commons License photo credit: etohaholic

 The real reason for the seasons is explained by the earth’s axis! Our planet is tilted at an angle of about 23.5 degrees with the perpendicular to Earth’s orbit around the sun. This means that the world is leaning slightly to one side at all times. Also, this would be a good time to note that this tilt stays the same throughout the orbit; it doesn’t swirl and swivel around as it moves along. So, the Northern Hemisphere leans slightly away from the sun in our winter, making the sun’s rays hit the earth at an oblique angle, which, in turn, makes its heat more diffuse over a large area, which equals cooler weather! The seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere for the same reasons; when the North is tilted away from the sun, the South is tilted towards it, and vice versa. This alternating cycle of direct and obtuse solar rays effects other facets of life on earth; it is the reason for the changing lengths of days and the reason why some people get so sunburned in more tropical areas (which are closer to the equator, go figure.)

Creative Commons License photo credit: chipdatajeffb

 We all have first hand knowledge of what the seasons bring to the blue planet, but what about some of the others? Mercury rotates 3 times in 2 of its years and it has some of the most extreme temperature variations in the solar system, with a range of about -297 to 800 degrees F! On Mars, seasons change every 7 months and are much more severe than those on Earth. And although seasons on a gas giant don’t mean what they do on a terrestrial planet, on Jupiter, a change occurs only every seven years! Facts like these make me extremely glad to be an Earthling.

So, instead of pondering what to wear now that heather gray is out of the question, or heading out to buy new bead covers for your flesh-searing vinyl car seats, come to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and explore science in the cool, climate controlled heart of the Museum District.

Erin C
Authored By Erin Crouch

As a Youth Education Marketing Coordinator, Erin is responsible for keeping the 20 districts to the North of Houston informed about everything going on at the Museum. She also works booths at various conferences to help promote HMNS to educators. She is crazy about all things entomological, loves working with special needs children, and is always involved in some sort of creative endeavor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become An HMNS Member

With a membership level for everyone; Don't just read about it, see it.

View All Membership Levels

Editor's Picks Wait Just A Minute! Let’s Take A Second To Talk About the Origin Of Time Keeping. The Krak Des Chevaliers: A Tough Nut To Krak Polar Dinosaurs Are Real And They Are More Adorable Than Elves Gosh that Corpse Looks Delicious: The Disturbing World of the Medieval Apothecary Hurricane Harvey Update How long could YOU Survive in the CBC??
Follow And Subscribe

Equally Interesting Posts

HMNS at Hermann Park

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston,Texas 77030
(713) 639-4629

Get Directions Offering varies by location
HMNS at Sugar Land

13016 University Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
(281) 313-2277

Get Directions Offering varies by location
George Observatory

21901 FM 762 Rd.
Needville, Texas 77461
(281) 242-3055

Tuesday - Saturday By Reservation
Saturdays 3:00PM - 10:00PM
Saturdays (DST) 3:00PM - 11:00PM
DST = Daylight Savings Time.
Please call for holiday hours. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park ends at 9:30 p.m. daily
Get Directions Offering varies by location

Stay in the know. Join our mailing list.