Does the sun rise first in India?

The course of the sun in the southern hemisphere

A reader question was the trigger for our article about the course of the sun in the southern hemisphere, which we published in November 2014. As a great friend of the natural sciences, especially physics and astronomy, I was on top form and wrote a long scientific treatise on the subject. At least that's what our readers believed.

In reality, this article comes to the correct result, but the derivation is a whacked stupidity. Even the first justifications are fictitious, false facts and a whole lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense follow. The nonsense is so well packaged and rhetorically elegantly prepared that everything makes sense again in the end. How many teachers and professors have enjoyed stolen passages from our article because pupils and students copied parts of it without thinking?

Since we know how many visitors land on our website because they search for "Sun course in the southern hemisphere" in a search engine, it has become clear to us that we cannot leave this nonsense. Instead of simply deleting it or overwriting it, let's write a new post that explains how it really works with the sun in the south. Because it's not that difficult at all. And with that you are already in the middle of our new article, this time without any nonsense. Promised!

A note that is close to my heart: The professionals may fail to see that I do not go into details that are unnecessary for understanding and that I simplify many things. Whenever in this article the sun wanders, goes, or moves, what is meant, of course, is that it appears to move, as we observe from the earth.

The crucial questions

You probably all know the good old motto: In the east the sun rises, in the south it is noon, in the west it will set, in the north it is never to be seen. Does this saying apply anywhere in the world? Or only for Germany or Europe or the entire northern hemisphere? Questions upon questions! We start this article with more questions that we will answer gradually. After that you have guaranteed to understand how it works with the sun in the southern hemisphere.

Question 1: Does the sun also rise in the east and set in the west in the southern hemisphere?
Question 2: Does “You can never see it in the north” apply all over the world?
Question 3: On what date is the sun at a location exactly vertical so that no shadow is cast?
Question 4: Are there places in the northern hemisphere where the sun can be seen in the north?
Question 5: Are there places in Germany where the sun is exactly vertical (no shadow is cast)?

The questions are unlikely to be that easy to answer for most readers. But you will see, bit by bit, the secret of the course of the sun is revealed.

East and west

The nice thing about the cardinal points is that they are independent of reference points, as opposed to clockwise or left / right, up / down and front / back. When I mean left, for someone standing across from me, that means by no means left, but right. The direction depends on a reference point, in this case from me and my line of sight. But if you look north on the globe, east is always to the right. It doesn't matter whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere.

Since the southern half of the globe does not rotate in any other direction than the northern half and - as just stated - the cardinal points are independent of reference points, the sun also rises in the southern hemisphere in the east and sets in the west. Just like with us in the northern hemisphere. It's that simple. That answers the first question quite loosely:

Question 1: Does the sun also rise in the east and set in the west in the southern hemisphere?
Answer: Yes, because the earth turns in the same direction everywhere.

North and South: The tropics

East and west have been eaten, it is crystal clear that there is no difference between the northern and southern hemispheres. It looks different when you look at the north and south. This is where the tropics come into play. There are two of them: The tropics are imaginary rings around the earth, parallel to the equator, one north and one south of it. The distances to the equator are each 23 degrees (for comparison: the north and south poles are 90 degrees each).

The equator is the ring (expertly called the parallel of latitude) in the center of the earth, at its thickest point. It runs through Lake Victoria and Kenya, Sumatra in Indonesia and Ecuador in South America.

The tropic, for example, runs through the Sahara and the Red Sea, touching almost the northernmost tip of Vietnam, while Hawaii is a little further south of it.

The Tropic of Capricorn runs through Namibia and Botswana, touches southern Madagascar and only goes a few kilometers past Alice Springs in Australia. Here we have created a small map with the equator and the two tropics:

Click on the button below to load the map from Stepmap.

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Solstice

Compared to the distances on our earth, the sun is gigantic far away. Although the spherical earth is quite small, it makes a difference how far north or south you are when you want to determine the direction in which you see the sun.

If the axis of the earth were perpendicular to its orbit around the sun, the sun would only ever be perpendicular to the equator. You can just imagine that. The earth's axis is inclined by 23 degrees. As a result, during a year the southern part and sometimes the northern part of the earth receives more sun. It is no coincidence that the tropics are 23 degrees north and south of the equator.

The tropics of the north are the places on earth where the sun is just vertical on a certain day of the year. If the sun is exactly vertical, no shadow is cast at noon. The southern tropic is the counterpart to this: six months later, the earth has moved to the other side of the sun and the southern part is now illuminated more. On any given day, the sun will be exactly perpendicular in locations on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Everyone knows these two special days: They are the winter and summer solstices, the shortest or longest day of the year. The sun “turns”: before the solstice it comes closer and closer to the respective tropic, on the day of the solstice it turns and moves to the other tropic in the following six months. This game repeats itself every year.

On the day of a solstice, the sun is vertical at all locations that are directly on the corresponding tropic around noon. Objects do not cast shadows to the side, only straight down. However, since the sun immediately “turns around” again, there can be no place beyond a tropic (south of the tropic and north of the tropic) where the sun is ever perpendicular. This can only be the case in places between the tropics.

Thinking a little further, this means: All places north of the Tropic of Capricorn (such as all of Europe and thus Germany) only ever see the sun in the south, never vertically and certainly not in the north. The same applies to the southern hemisphere: south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun is always in the north and never in the south, exactly the opposite of what it is here. For the southern hemisphere, the motto can be changed to “… in the north it is noon… in the south it is never to be seen”. The other parts of the saying with east and west remain the same.

Our second question is therefore considered to be answered:

Question 2: Does “You can never see it in the north” apply all over the world?
Answer: No, it only applies to locations north of the Tropic of Capricorn (e.g. Germany).

Between the tropics: everything vertical?

Now we know that beyond the tropics, the sun can never be vertical. Around June 21st it is vertical at the tropic in the north, and around December 21st at the south. But what about all the places that are between the tropics? For example, exactly in the middle at the equator? The answer is simple: it depends. But what is important?

The sun moves from one tropic to another and back, year after year, incessantly. While it only affects the tropics itself, it always sweeps over places between the tropics twice during a year. In a place that is a small distance from a tropic in the direction of the equator, shortly before the turning point and shortly after the turning point, the sun will be vertical. When the sun has covered half of the distance to the opposite tropic, it is vertical at the equator and on the "return path" - exactly six months later - again.

At the equator, the sun is vertical on two specific days of the year: Around March 21st and September 21st, 3 months away from the solstices. On these days, day and night are the same length everywhere on earth, no hemisphere is preferred by the sun, as it is in the middle directly above the equator. We dare to answer the next question:

Question 3: On what date is the sun in a location exactly vertical so that no shadow is cast?
Answer: That depends on the latitude of the place. In any case, this can only apply to places between the tropics that are always covered by the sun twice during a year. For locations in the northern hemisphere (between the equator and the tropic of the tropics), this date is between March 21 and September 21, depending on the latitude. For locations in the southern hemisphere in the other half of the year.

Now the answer to the next question is no longer particularly surprising:

Question 4: Are there places in the northern hemisphere where the sun can be seen in the north?
Answer: Why, surely! Places between the equator and the tropic of the north have the sun in the north for a certain period of time once a year. The further south the location is, the longer this period of time: at most half a year (location is exactly on the equator), at least for a short, theoretical moment (in the borderline case: location is on the tropic). For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that the sun is also in the north in summer in places north of the Arctic Circle, at least during the night. But we don't want to look at the phenomenon of the midnight sun here.

Finally, there is the last question that most of you would have answered “yes” before reading this article:

Question 5: Are there places in Germany where the sun is exactly vertical (no shadow is cast)?
Answer: No definitely not. Since Germany is far too far from the Tropic of Capricorn, such a place cannot exist.

The good old motto

Finally, we should recall the good old motto: In the east the sun rises, in the south it is noon, in the west it will set, in the north it is never to be seen. Everyone knows him like that. But as you now know, this saying can only apply to places north of the tropic. But what about places south of the tropic and the places in between?

It should 3 variants of this motto give so that all places on the whole earth are covered:

  1. For Places north of the tropic remains the saying as we know it: in the east the sun rises, in the south it runs at noon, in the west it will set, in the north it is never to be seen.
  2. For Places south of the Tropic of Capricorn you just have to swap north and south: in the east the sun rises, in the north (instead of south) it runs at noon, in the west it will set, in the south (instead of north) it can never be seen.
  3. For Places between the tropics the saying is simply shortened, even if it no longer rhymes so nicely: In the east the sun rises, in the west it will set. The other parts of the saying depend on the latitude of the place and the date.

Now you know how it works with the sun and the cardinal points in the southern hemisphere. For places beyond the tropic, this means: north and south are swapped, east and west remain the same. Very easily.

You have probably heard of the fact that in some parts of the world it does not get dark at all in summer and that the sun cannot be seen for months in winter. In addition to the equator and the two tropics, there are two other important circles on earth, the polar circles. Maybe one day I'll write an article about it and you can find out if it's true or if my fantasy has run away again with me. Until then, you can pass the time with our satire article about the course of the sun. Now you don't let any more bears tie you up!