Long and short days

Why do sunrise and sunset not change evenly?

The winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 or 22, marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Following the winter solstice, the days – or, more exactly, the period between sunrise and sunset – get longer again. At first you hardly notice it, but it gradually becomes more and more obvious.
Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

This means that the Sun does not rise earlier by a fixed number of minutes every morning and set later by the same number of minutes. A quick glance at an astronomical almanac or a calendar showing sunrise and sunset times reveals that these do not change evenly.

While the Sun rises only a little earlier every day at the beginning of the year, it sets noticeably later every evening. For example, on February 1, 2009 in Berlin, the Sun rose 25 minutes earlier than on January 1, but it set 45 minutes later.

In spite of this 'asymmetrical' change, the 'solar noon' – the moment when the Sun appears highest above the horizon – always falls midway between sunrise and sunset. The amount of time between sunrise and solar noon remains more or less the same as the amount of time between solar noon and sunset.

Thus, the days get longer but the Sun actually only rises a little bit earlier every day and still reaches its highest point in the sky at midday. This means that the Sun reaches this highest point with a 'delay' that increases with every day. How can this happen?
For one thing, the Earth does not orbit the Sun at a constant speed, as its orbit is slightly elliptical rather than perfectly circular. This means that the Sun passes through the sky at a slightly different speed from day to day, sometimes a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower. For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year.

For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year. The reason for this is that the Earth's axis of rotation, which connects the geographic North and South Poles, is not perpendicular to its orbit: depending on the time of the year, either the northern or the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun.

German Aerospace Center
Long and short days - Why do sunrise and sunset not change evenly? | Redshift live

Long and short days

Why do sunrise and sunset not change evenly?

The winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 or 22, marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Following the winter solstice, the days – or, more exactly, the period between sunrise and sunset – get longer again. At first you hardly notice it, but it gradually becomes more and more obvious.
Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

This means that the Sun does not rise earlier by a fixed number of minutes every morning and set later by the same number of minutes. A quick glance at an astronomical almanac or a calendar showing sunrise and sunset times reveals that these do not change evenly.

While the Sun rises only a little earlier every day at the beginning of the year, it sets noticeably later every evening. For example, on February 1, 2009 in Berlin, the Sun rose 25 minutes earlier than on January 1, but it set 45 minutes later.

In spite of this 'asymmetrical' change, the 'solar noon' – the moment when the Sun appears highest above the horizon – always falls midway between sunrise and sunset. The amount of time between sunrise and solar noon remains more or less the same as the amount of time between solar noon and sunset.

Thus, the days get longer but the Sun actually only rises a little bit earlier every day and still reaches its highest point in the sky at midday. This means that the Sun reaches this highest point with a 'delay' that increases with every day. How can this happen?
For one thing, the Earth does not orbit the Sun at a constant speed, as its orbit is slightly elliptical rather than perfectly circular. This means that the Sun passes through the sky at a slightly different speed from day to day, sometimes a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower. For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year.

For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year. The reason for this is that the Earth's axis of rotation, which connects the geographic North and South Poles, is not perpendicular to its orbit: depending on the time of the year, either the northern or the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun.

German Aerospace Center
» print article
Related articles:
This illustration from Johann Elert Bode's 1782 star atlas shows the constellation of the Great Bear. The seven brightest stars of the Great Bear are also known as the Big Dipper or Plough in English.
"Unofficial" constellations

Where did the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper go?

» go to article
This is a portrait of Pope Gregory XIII, who in 1582 decreed that a new calendar be used. The Gregorian calendar, which over the centuries has replaced most other calendars, was based on a reform of the way the date of Easter was calculated.
How the date for Easter is calculated

So, When is Easter?

» go to article
Search
Astronomy Software

Solar Eclipse by Redshift

Solar Eclipse by Redshift for iOS

Observe, understand, and marvel at the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017! » more

Solar Eclipse by Redshift

Solar Eclipse by Redshift for Android

Observe, understand, and marvel at the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017! » more

Redshift 8 Premium

Redshift 8 Premium - Download Edition (Multilingua Edition)

Explore the universe from your PC with the award-winning and professional planetarium software - Languages: German, English, French
 » more

Redshift 8 Premium DL deutsch/engl 2

Redshift 8 Premium - Update from older versions

Update from Redshift 7 or older to the current version of the professional planetarium software - Languages: German, English, French
 » more

Redshift 8 Compact

Redshift 8 Compact - Download Edition

The professional planetarium software for beginners » more

Long and short days

Why do sunrise and sunset not change evenly?

The winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 or 22, marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Following the winter solstice, the days – or, more exactly, the period between sunrise and sunset – get longer again. At first you hardly notice it, but it gradually becomes more and more obvious.
Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

Illustration of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The orbit is elliptical, rather than circular, and the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit. The non-circularity of the orbit and the tilt of the axis of rotation both contribute to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

This means that the Sun does not rise earlier by a fixed number of minutes every morning and set later by the same number of minutes. A quick glance at an astronomical almanac or a calendar showing sunrise and sunset times reveals that these do not change evenly.

While the Sun rises only a little earlier every day at the beginning of the year, it sets noticeably later every evening. For example, on February 1, 2009 in Berlin, the Sun rose 25 minutes earlier than on January 1, but it set 45 minutes later.

In spite of this 'asymmetrical' change, the 'solar noon' – the moment when the Sun appears highest above the horizon – always falls midway between sunrise and sunset. The amount of time between sunrise and solar noon remains more or less the same as the amount of time between solar noon and sunset.

Thus, the days get longer but the Sun actually only rises a little bit earlier every day and still reaches its highest point in the sky at midday. This means that the Sun reaches this highest point with a 'delay' that increases with every day. How can this happen?
For one thing, the Earth does not orbit the Sun at a constant speed, as its orbit is slightly elliptical rather than perfectly circular. This means that the Sun passes through the sky at a slightly different speed from day to day, sometimes a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower. For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year.

For another, the Sun's path across the sky is slightly different every day, depending on the time of the year. The reason for this is that the Earth's axis of rotation, which connects the geographic North and South Poles, is not perpendicular to its orbit: depending on the time of the year, either the northern or the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun.

German Aerospace Center
» print article

Search
Astronomy Software

Solar Eclipse by Redshift

Solar Eclipse by Redshift for iOS

Observe, understand, and marvel at the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017! » more

Solar Eclipse by Redshift

Solar Eclipse by Redshift for Android

Observe, understand, and marvel at the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017! » more

Redshift 8 Premium

Redshift 8 Premium - Download Edition (Multilingua Edition)

Explore the universe from your PC with the award-winning and professional planetarium software - Languages: German, English, French
 » more

Redshift 8 Premium DL deutsch/engl 2

Redshift 8 Premium - Update from older versions

Update from Redshift 7 or older to the current version of the professional planetarium software - Languages: German, English, French
 » more

Redshift 8 Compact

Redshift 8 Compact - Download Edition

The professional planetarium software for beginners » more