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January 2013 Newsletter, Stories & Announcements...


In southeastern Idaho, our January thaw arrived in February this year. The temporary loosening of winter's icy grip has put me in mind of the changing of seasons. Of course it could also be nothing more than an advanced case of cabin fever. Either way, I thought the changing of the seasons would be an appropriate topic for our newsletter this month. I hope you find the information interesting and useful.

Understanding the Changing of the Seasons...
Long time readers of this newsletter already understand that I am afflicted by a fascination with globes and celestial models. Newer subscribers will undoubtedly realize the severity of my particular affliction before completing very many issues. What none of you may realize is that there have been times in my life that I didn't have ready access to a globe. That admission is not an easy one to make but it is nevertheless true.

One such time was about 15 to 20 years ago when my youngest daughter was in grade school. She came home one day complaining that she didn't understand how the changing of the seasons worked.

I attempted to explain the causes of the seasons with detailed explanations and expansive hand gestures and all I got back was frustrated incomprehension and tear filled eyes. Obviously something needed to change in my explanation or my daughter would wind up going through life deprived of a proper understanding of how the earth's rotation and axial tilt create the seasonal changes enjoyed in the northern and southern latitudes.

Lacking a globe, I dug up our basketball, rounded up the family, and we all went out to the driveway. The boys came along probably laboring under the false impression that there was a spontaneous game of basketball in the offing. My older daughter and wife probably joined us in anticipation of witnessing the rare event of dad shooting some hoops.

Basket Ball ImageIn reality, I fooled them all! I positioned four family members at the 4 points of the compass and informed each that they represented a specific season, spring, summer, fall, or winter. I then took the basketball and tilted it at a precise 23.5 degrees to simulate the axial tilt of the Earth. (OK, while that was a bit of an exaggeration, I am pretty sure I was within 20 degrees of the proper axial tilt.) My painstaking efforts had just created a crude model in which we could examine the revolution of the earth in relation to the sun.

I then placed my youngest daughter in the center of the family circle and informed her that she was the sun, (not to be confused with son). We then spent the next 30 minutes with dad walking the basketball around the inside of our family circle. As I arrived at each season I would stop and we would discuss the portion of the basketball that was most visible to the sun and why it was most visible. Our crude model accomplished what all my detailed explanations and expansive hand gestures had failed to do, she understood! Looking back on the experience I have often wished that I had had a globe available to help explain the seasonal progression which results from the earth's axial tilt and its revolution around the sun. A globe, a flashlight, and a dimly lit room would have been a far more easy and probably a more effective learning experience. (However, if I had used a globe, I wouldn't have family members nicknamed spring, summer, fall, and winter!)

If your family is smaller than the six members that constitute my family, it would be impossible for you to replicate our seasonal model. However, you can still enjoy the same learning experience with your child. It is a great use of your world globe and I can tell you from personal experience that there are very few things more enjoyable than seeing your child's eyes light up with joy when they finally understand a concept that has been eluding them. It is a memory they will carry with them for a lifetime.

Okay, so I have to come clean yet again. As great as it was to see my grade-schooler comprehend the progression of the seasons, it was infinitely more enjoyable to have my 30 year old daughter relate the experience from her adolescent perspective and to have her express her appreciation for her siblings, her mom, and for me taking the time we spent helping her understand. While she still understands the progression of the seasons, it is the memory of her family's involvement that she will carry with her the rest of her life.

As much as I appreciate and enjoy digital learning tools, I think one of the things I love most about globes is the way they invite a personal hands on approach to teaching and learning. I hope you will take the opportunity to gather around your globe and pass on your knowledge to someone you care about. It's a great feeling!

Digital Resources for the Changing of the Seasons...
Here are a few resources that may aid in understanding how the Earth's axial tilt affects the seasons.

Axial Tilt & Seasons Diagram, showing Summer versus Winter sunlight comparisonThis first diagram shows summer in the southern hemisphere on the left, and summer in the northern hemisphere on the right. The light striking the surface of the earth is depicted by the amber arrows. The arrows are spaced an equal distance apart. By counting the number of arrows above and below the equator, you can easily compare the amount of light reaching each hemisphere. When a hemisphere is angled towards the sun, it receives far more light than when it is angled away from the sun.

During the Spring & Autumnal Equinoxes, the Celestial Equator is parallel with the sun and both hemispheres receive the same amount of sunlight.

NASA has created some wonderful composite images that show the seasonal impacts on the northern and southern hemispheres. You can find all 12 monthly composites for 2004 on the NASA web site.

This first image shows January, the height of meteorological summer in the southern hemisphere.

This second image shows July, the height of meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere.

NASA Image, winter in the southern hemisphere

Notice the changes in snow pack on the continents as well as the change in vegetation color when each hemisphere experiences summer and the active growth of the vegetation.

You might also enjoy this seasonal animation which progresses through a complete 12 month cycle. Note the month is displayed in the top left corner of the animation.

Thank you for spending this time with us and we'll see you again next month!

Larry Murray

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