The winter is coming - the solstice is approaching! How does the season come about and what science experiment can you do at home to learn more about it?

Kids Corner: Solstice Science Fun!

Welcome to the Winter Edition of Kid’s Corner!

Welcome to the dark days of December. It’s dark when we get up for school and dark when we get home from school. If you are unlucky enough to live in the far north, near the Arctic Circle, it’s dark most of the time! Why is this? Well, unlike what ancient cultures believed, there is nothing mystical is behind it. Our planet Earth just doesn’t sit up straight, it leans a little.

Imagine the Earth traveling through space like a toy top. A top, as it loses speed, tilts a little. The Earth isn’t losing speed, but it tilts too. As it circles the sun, one half is always tilted towards the sun and the other away. This is how we get our seasons. The half that is tilted in the direction of the sun experiences summer thanks to the amount of direct sunlight it receives. Oppositely, the half that tilts away receives less sunlight and experiences winter. Which way do you think we are tilting now? If you answered away, you would be correct!

This is also why it seems darker and our days shorter, less sunlight is reaching us. Have you noticed this? Have you also noticed how shadows even seem longer? This too is because of the tilt of the Earth. When the Earth tilts away from the sun, the sun appears lower in our sky. Think of walking into a room with a lamp. Stand in front of the lamp and it will cast your shadow across the room. If that same room had an overhead light instead of a lamp, your shadow would be cast downward. Each day will seem to get darker and each shadow will grow longer until December 21st; the shortest day of the year, the day the northern half of the worlds tilt is farthest away from the sun.

Try this fun activity and home and witness some of the science of the season!

  • An open space outside (for best results use a flat, paved space.)
  • Measuring tape, yardstick, etc.
  • A partner to help with measuring
  • Something that can mark length (chalk, marker, flag)

This activity works best on a paved space, but since one may not be available that works, any flat, open surface will do. If working on the ground, you can use flags, rocks, sticks; anything that can mark the spots where your shadow falls. It is also important to do this at the same time each day, mid-afternoon works best.

  1. Standing with you back to the sun, mark the spot on the ground at the tips of your toes. You will return to this spot each day.
  2. Next, standing straight and still, have your partner mark the end of your shadow. This will be the top of your shadows head.
  3. Now using your measuring device, measure the distance from your toes to your head and take note of it.
  4. Do the same for your partner and anyone else who is curious. Make sure that everything is marked well!
  5. Come back the following day and stand in the same exact spot as the day before. Line your toes up just right and measure again. Did you notice any change?
  6. Continue doing this leading up to December 21st, noting each days results. What happens? Keep going beyond the 21st to witness even more solar magic!

Have fun with this easy experiment. There will be much more to come in the new year!

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