Solstice Solar Radiation

Solstice Solar Radiation

How do the solstices reflect changes in sunlight?


6 - 10


Earth Science, Meteorology, Geography, Physical Geography

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A NASA satellite instrument, CERES, took these images in 2004 and 2005. The images are measurements of the Earth’s albedo—the amount of solar radiation reflected from Earth back into space.

The CERES images show a radical difference in albedo between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, as well as between the December and June solstices. The Southern Hemisphere reflects a tremendous amount of radiation during the December solstice (top image), while the Northern Hemisphere reflects more radiation in June.

Instructional Ideas

Consult National Geography Standard 7.2 (4th grade): The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface. Earth-Sun relationships affect conditions on Earth.

Discuss the relationship between the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun and changes experienced on Earth:

  • temperature
  • light
  • different impacts of solar radiation on land and water

Review the "Questions" tab to explore some ways solar radiation differs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres on the solstices.

Fast Fact

According to CERES, the amount of solar energy received at the North Pole is 30% higher during the summer solstice than the amount of solar energy received at the Equator.

Fast Fact

Clouds do most of the reflecting in these NASA images. (In fact, CERES, the instrument responsible for these images, stands for Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System.)

Fast Fact

Solar radiation measured by CERES includes not just the visible spectrum of light, but ultraviolet and infrared—wavelengths too short (ultraviolet) or too long (infrared) for the human eye to see.

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National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 12, 2024

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