Monday, December 19, 2011

Of course, any valid explanation must include the Snow Demons.

Various bloggers have been complaining about the popular misconception that the earth's distance from the sun causes winter.

That is not in itself terribly edifying, but a little link-clicking did lead me to something I hadn't seen explained before, seasonal lag (or, why is summer hottest in August and winter coldest in January?).

... Fixed per Ugh, which is the old Sumerian word for "nitpicker."

I think much of the problem is that kids dutifully learn that the earth's orbit is an ellipse, and see pictures like this one -

- and, reasonably enough, suppose that such an eccentric orbit must make a difference in the seasons. Alas and thankfully, the Earth's orbit is about 0.0167, i.e., almost a circle.


  1. Distance from the Sun does cause winter, just not for the earth as a whole. No? Is not the Northern Hemisphere farther from the sun in January than July?

  2. Of course, reading the comments at MoJo, it's apparently the angle of the earth's tilt, as opposed to the resulting distance, that makes the seasons.

    But, more importantly, how did you know I was Sumerian? Oh, the name, right. :-)

  3. Oh, I thought you were homing in on the fact (?) that, being tilted away from the Sun, the winter hemisphere is "farther away" from the Sun. At least, it's less exposed.

  4. Oh I was, but apparently it's the amount of energy absorbed from the sun that makes the seasons, and not that whatever hemisphere is tilted away from the sun is farther away at that point in time. I.e., if the N. Hemisphere is tilted away, it's absorbing less energy, and thus cooling, and the reverse when it's tilted forward.

    This apparently makes a big difference in terms of % of energy absorbed, whereas the change in distance is minuscule.

  5. Oh, well you were completely wrong then! ;)

    I had thought it was the angle at which the rays hit -- more direct in summer, less in winter -- but now I have actual work to do and can't run that down.

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