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Answered 2006-09-07 13:36:03

Twice a year, halfway between summer and winter, the Sun rises exactly in the east , and sets exactly in the west (well, nearly exactly, in both cases). We now know that on the days when this happen, day and night are very nearly equal in length, and that time of year is therefore called "equinox." One equinox happens in the fall ("autumnal equinox") and one in the spring ("vernal equinox," "ver" is Latin for spring). As fall advances towards winter, the location of sunrise moves south, as does the location of sunset. The steepness of the curve traced by the Sun does not change, nor does the rate ("speed") with which the Sun appears to move along it, but the length of the curve changes, it becomes shorter. Around December 21 --the "winter solstice" halfway between the equinox dates (typically, September 23 and March 21) sunrise and sunset are as far south as they can go (at any one location). As a result, the Sun has its shortest path for the year, the day is at its shortest and night is at its longest. Other days of that season are short, too, which is one reason for the colder weather in winter. In summer, the Sun's path is longest, and so are the days. In winter, the Sun's path is shortest, and so are the days. After that the points of sunrise and sunset migrate northward again, and days get longer. This migration continues past equinox (when it is at its fastest), and the Sun crosses the horizon furthest northwards around June 21, the "summer solstice" (celebrated in some cultures as "midsummer day"), longest day of the year with the shortest night. After that days get shorter again as sunset and sunrise migrate south again. The long days of summer, of course, match the warmer summer weather.

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