What causes the seasons?

Neeraja Raghavan and Tapasya Saha

A common misconception that people have is the cause of the seasons. It is not at all surprising to find that both adults and children believe that just as the Earth’s rotation on its axis causes day and night, the Earth’s revolution around the sun causes the seasons. It is embarrassing for adults to confess that they are not sure why this is wrong, or do not understand exactly why the Earth’s revolution causes seasons.

This article is an attempt to help clear this misunderstanding. The article is in the form of a dialogue and can be used in different ways to teach and learn:

  • As a read on by the teacher.
  • As a comic strip with two characters. Cartoons will then need to be inserted.
  • As a role play by students, using placards that bear the illustrations contained herein.

Sima, a junior school geography teacher, is not very clear about the concept of ‘seasons’. She approaches the high school geography teacher, Preeti, for help.

Sima: I believe seasons are caused by the revolution of the Earth, because it seems reasonable that whenever the Earth is far away from the sun (in its elliptical orbit), it would be colder on the far side (facing away from the sun), than when it is closer to the sun. So this must cause winter and summer, right?

Preeti: Let me look at the question closely. There are two things that you are talking about here:
1. Elliptical orbit, wherein the distance of the Earth from the sun varies at two extremes,
2. About the two sides of the Earth facing/not facing the sun.

Neeraja Raghavan is a Professor at the Azim Premji Unviersity, Bangalore. She can be reached at neeraja@azimpremjifoundation.org.

Tapasya Saha is a Resource Person (Geography) and is also in School Central Team. She can be reached at tapasya@azimpremjifoundation.org.

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