The Solstices

Image courtesy This is an oblique model of the path that the Earth makes around the sun. The line that passes through each one of the Earths represents the 23.5 degree tilt that the Earth rotates upon. Refer to the Earths Yearly Revolution Visualization animation.

Compare near surface temperature at the time of the solstices in two different hemispheres.
Grade Level: 6, 9
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: 90 minutes
Learning Outcomes:
  • Find the maximum and minimum temperature for a given year
  • Compare the maximum and minimum temperatures to the area’s solstice dates
  • Draw conclusions about the differences between the two hemispheres’ seasons
  • Recognize general trends in long term data
  • Basic knowledge of Excel or graph reading
  • Understanding of climatic hemispherical differences
  • Ability to locate a place on the globe or a map using longitude and latitude
  • Excel
  • Atlas or world map with longitude and latitude
  • colored highlighters
National Standards:
  • Science Content: D Earth and Space Science
AP Environmental Science Topics
Virginia Standards of Learning:
  • ES.3d: The student will investigate and understand how to read and interpret maps, globes, models, charts, and imagery. Key concepts include location by latitude and longitude and topographic profiles.
  • ES.4: The student will investigate and understand the characteristics of the Earth and the solar system.
  • Sci6.3: The student will investigate and understand the role of solar energy in driving most natural processes within the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and on the Earth’s surface.
Lesson Links:

What determines the beginning of summer and winter for you? Do you think everyone in the world starts summer on the same day you do? This lesson will explore how an area’s solstice date correlates to its maximum and minimum temperatures for the year.

The solstice is the astronomical beginning for either summer or winter. As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun in the sky changes over the course of the year. These changes are due to the tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation relative to the plane of Earth’s orbit as Earth circles the sun. Solstices occur when the Sun reaches maximum offsets of plus or minus 23.27 degrees from the Equator.

There are many factors that affect an area’s near surface temperature. One factor is the tilt of Earth’s axis relative to the sun as it moves in its orbit around the Sun. These changes are due to the orientation of the tilted rotation axis with respect to the Sun. We will be looking at how both of these factors affect an area’s maximum and minimum temperatures.

The temperature data used in this lesson can be found on the MY NASA DATA Live Access Server (LAS). The data comes from NASA satellite observations.


1. Open the Lesson Link for the Student Data Sheets. There are five pages in this document representing five different time periods for Near-Surface Air Temperature data. Complete the Introductory Activities on one of the five pages (assigned to you) using a map, and a blue and red highlighter.

2. View the Temperature Graph in the Lesson Links. As a class, discuss any differences or similarities in temperature between the different time periods and compare answers to the introductory questions.

3. Next, complete the Summary Packet that includes further information about the Winter and Summer Solstice (HTTP version also in Lesson Links) and conclusion questions.

4. View the Science World short animation in the Lesson Links that shows the Earth’s change in tilt as it goes around in its orbit. This movie shows the Eastern Hemisphere of the Earth from the viewpoint of the Sun during the course of one year.

5. Next, view the Earth’s Yearly Revolution Visualization that shows the orbit from a different point of view.

6. Answer the questions below and present your conclusions.


1. How far apart (in days) are an area’s solstices compared to its maximum and minimum temperatures?

2. How far (in days) are the maximum and minimum temperatures from the solstice date?

3. What trends can you determine from the temperature graph?

4. Why does the Northern hemisphere have its winter solstice on the same day that the Southern hemisphere has its summer solstice?

5. How did satellites help determine your conclusions?


1. What factors may account for the differences in peak temperatures?

2. Complete the team lesson plan on Earth’s Energy Budget – Seasonal Cycles in Net Radiative Flux

3. Explore the Monthly Surface Clear-Sky Temperature in the Live Access Server to look for locations where elevation (altitude) is a significant factor on the Earth’s near surface temperature. To do this use the link to the Live Access Server (Advanced Edition) , after clicking on the link, click Atmosphere, then Atmospheric Radiation and finally click on Monthly Surface Clear-sky LW Downward flux (SRB).

4. For further investigation try the Comparison of Land and Water Temperature and Differences Between Ground and Air Temperatures found in the links section.

Lesson plan contributed by Catherine Hade, Waynesboro, PA

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