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This Amazing Interactive Shows What The Sun Would Look Like Anywhere, Anytime

These simple gifs show the motion of the Sun through the sky, anywhere on Earth

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photo: NASA

The path of the sun through the sky seems regular enough: It rises in the east, arcs high through the sky with a peak at noon, and settles down in the west. But to get a sense of how complicated the movements of the sun and the Earth really are, try out this simulator. Built by a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it shows what the sun would look like passing through the sky at any time, on any day, anywhere on Earth.

It’s most fun, though, to look at places where the sun’s elaborate annual cycles create the most dramatic changes on Earth. Think about Stonehenge, for instance, which is thought to have helped ancient people track the winter and summer solstices. This representation shows the noon-time Sun as it changes throughout the year at Stonehenge’s latitude. It’s clear why people at this latitude would be watching the sun carefully: look how low it stays in the winter. You’d be watching for the end of those dark days, too.

The rising and falling disk shows where the Sun would be at noon at the latitude of Stonehenge. This shows the large-scale pattern of the Sun’s motion while ignoring the more familiar day-to-day cycle. Photo: Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project

Or look at the polar regions, the land above the Arctic Circle or down in Antarctica. In the Land of the Midnight Sun, there are days where the sun never sets for months at a time. (The inverse happens, too—some days, the sun never rises.) Here’s what that looks like, over the course of a year:

The annual change in the noon-time Sun in Antarctica. Photo: Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project

Even at the equator, where the Sun is often thought to rise directly overhead, the Sun goes through an annual shift. The noon Sun at the equator is always high in the sky, but it slowly drifts from north to south, meaning that if you stood still for a year your shadow would slowly bounce from side-to-side.

At the equator, the noon Sun moves from north to south throughout the year. Photo: Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project

The simulator doesn’t take everything into account, but it’s a fun way to get your head around some of the complex interactions that go on in space. In fact, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln team actually have big range of similar interactive apps, from one to help calculate the phase of the Moon to a calculator to find the habitable zone for planets around other stars.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Excavation at Stonehenge

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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