# S CIENCE O VERVIEW. 59 Lesson Plan. Standards Benchmarks. Science Overview. Lesson Overview. Answer Key. Resources. My Angle on Cooling ME S S EN G ER

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3 You can try a simple demonstration of this effect by shining a flashlight at a wall (see Figure 4). If you point the flashlight so that it is perpendicular to the wall, you can see a bright circle of light created on the wall. If you tilt the flashlight, the circle on the wall changes to an oval, and the lighted area becomes dimmer. The more you tilt the flashlight, the larger the lighted area becomes. The light received per unit area decreases, and therefore the light appears dimmer. Figure 3. Effect of the viewing angle on the amount of radiation received from the Sun. Sunlight is spread over a larger area (B on right) when it strikes the ground at an angle than when it strikes the ground face-on (area A on left). If the surface were tilted toward the incoming sunlight face-on (dotted area A on right), the intensity of sunlight would be the same as the intensity on area A. (Note: the distance to the Sun appears different in the picture in the two cases, but it is just to make both images fit in the same picture; in reality the distance from the Sun for objects on the surface of Earth is basically the same wherever they are.) Seasons on Earth An important example of the effect of the viewing angle is the seasons on Earth. The angle between the equatorial plane and the orbital plane of the Earth is 23.5º (see Figures 5 and 6). The corresponding tilt of the rotational axis is called the obliquity of the Earth. The orientation of the Earth s rotational axis does not change as our planet orbits the Sun the northern end of the axis points toward a star called Polaris, also called the North Star, in the constellation Ursa Minor, throughout the year. Figure 4. Shining a flashlight on a wall to demonstrate the effect of the viewing angle. When the flashlight is tilted (right-hand case), the light is spread over a larger area, and the amount of light received by unit area is reduced. The tilt of the rotational axis and the resulting change in the direction of the arriving sunlight during the year has the following effects on the amount of sunlight received by different regions on the surface of the Earth: The angle at which the sunlight strikes the Earth changes throughout the year: during the summer, the angle between the surface and the arriving 61

4 sunlight is greater than during the winter. For an observer standing on the surface of the Earth, this effect can be seen as the Sun s position in the sky at local noon being higher during summer than during winter. There are more hours of daylight during summer than during winter. The first effect is connected with the viewing angle toward a light or radiant heat source. If the sunlight arrives on the surface of Earth from directly overhead, sunlight heats a given place at maximum intensity. If the sunlight arrives at an angle, the same amount of sunlight is spread over a larger area, and the amount of radiation received by the same place is smaller (just as in the flashlight demonstration). Sunlight arriving at an angle also has to travel through more of the Earth s atmosphere, and more of the energy of the sunlight is lost before it arrives at the surface. The magnitude of the second effect depends on the part of the Earth. At the equator, the number of daylight hours does not change during the year, while at the poles the days change from 24 hours of daylight in the summer to 24 hours of night in the winter. Although the length of daylight has an effect on temperature (and climate), it is not nearly as noticeable as Figure 5. Definitions of terms used to describe Earth s orientation in space. Rotational axis is the geometric axis around which the Earth rotates once a day. The equatorial plane is the geometric plane going through the Earth at the equator. It is perpendicular (at 90º angle) to the rotational axis. The orbital plane of the Earth (also called the ecliptic), is the geometric plane in which the orbit of Earth around the Sun is located. The angle between Earth s equatorial and orbital planes is 23.5º; or, the rotational axis is tilted 23.5º from the perpendicular direction of the orbital plane. (Note that the sunlight arriving on Earth is always parallel to the orbital plane but does not always come from the same direction with respect to the orientation of the Earth. By the way the sunlight is falling on Earth in this figure, it would be winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the southern hemisphere.) 62

5 the effect of the angle of sunlight remember that the arctic summer is still cool when compared with the tropics, even when the poles get 24-hour sunlight. On the spring equinox (on or about March 20), the Earth s rotational axis is perpendicular to the direction of the arriving sunlight. (Remember that the rotational axis is always pointing toward the North Let us consider how the Earth is affected as it goes Star, but during the equinox the angle between the through one revolution around the Sun (one year). Sun, the Earth, and the North Star is 90.) At this You can use Figure 6 as a guide; we will start at the top of the figure and proceed counter-clockwise. The situation is described from the perspective of the northern hemisphere. time, both northern and southern hemispheres are half in sunlight, half in darkness, and the length of daylight is more or less equal (about 12 hours) in all parts of the world. Figure 6. The inclination of Earth s rotational axis ("tilt") explains why the summer starts in June in the northern hemisphere. At this time, the Sun s rays strike the northern hemisphere most directly: the angle between arriving sunlight and Earth s equator is Jun = 23.5º. The tilt does not change, so in the winter the Sun s rays strike the surface at a low angle: Dec is -23.5º (minus sign since the northern end of the rotational axis is pointed away). On the equinoxes (March and September), the sunlight arrives at the equator exactly perpendicular to it, Mar = Sep = 0º (these angles are not drawn in the picture). The seasons occur in the opposite times of the calendar year in the southern hemisphere. NOTE: Figure not drawn to scale. 63

6 During spring and summer months, more than half of the northern hemisphere is in sunlight at any given time, and the days are longer than the nights. The North Pole is in sunlight all the time, and as the spring progresses, regions in lower (but still arctic) latitudes experience 24-hour sunlight, as well. On the summer solstice (on or about June 21), the angle between the rotational axis and the direction of the arriving sunlight is smallest (see Figure 6). Regions above the Arctic Circle (at 66.5 latitude and above) have 24-hour sunlight during this time. After the summer solstice, the number of daylight hours dwindles toward the winter, and the limiting line of regions with 24-hour sunlight moves back toward the pole. On the autumnal equinox (on or about September 23), the Earth s rotational axis is perpendicular to the arriving sunlight again, and the northern and southern hemispheres both are half in sunlight, half in darkness. As the autumn progresses, less than half of the northern hemisphere receives sunlight, as the North Pole is directed away from the Sun. In fact, no sunlight reaches the North Pole from this point until the spring, and a six-month long night begins. The limiting line of regions receiving no sunlight moves down from the pole as the autumn progresses, until the winter solstice (on or about December 21), when regions above the Arctic Circle receive no sunlight. From the solstice on toward the summer, the number of daylight hours increases, and the limiting line of no sunlight during the day moves back toward the pole. On the spring equinox, the cycle begins again. The seasons follow the same pattern in the southern hemisphere, but there they are reversed. During the summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter in the southern hemisphere, and vice versa. This is because when the angle between the North Pole and the Sun is the smallest, the angle between the South Pole and the Sun is the largest, and vice versa (see Figure 6). The apparent position of the Sun at a given time of day changes during the course of the year. (Remember that the Sun does not actually move it appears to move in the sky during the day because of the Earth s rotation.) The highest position of the Sun in the sky during a day occurs at local noon, but the position of the Sun at noon varies during the year. It is highest on the summer solstice in June and lowest on the winter solstice in December in the northern hemisphere, and exactly opposite in the southern hemisphere. The highest position that the Sun can reach depends on the observer s latitude. If you live between 23.5 latitude and the North (or South) Pole, subtract your latitude from 90.0 and add 23.5 in order to determine the Sun s highest position in the sky viewed from your hometown. For example, if your hometown is Orlando, Florida, which has a latitude 64

7 of 28.5, the Sun will be at an angle of 85.0 from the horizon at local noon on the summer solstice. Alternatively, if your hometown is Seattle, Washington, at a latitude of 47.5, the Sun s angle will be 66.0 at local noon on the summer solstice. Note that the names for the solstices and equinoxes are based on northern hemisphere seasons and it can become a little confusing when talking about the seasons in the southern hemisphere at the same time. It is a common misconception that the seasons on Earth are caused by the Earth being closer to the Sun in the summer than in the winter. THIS IS WRONG! The Earth orbits the Sun in a nearly circular orbit: the average distance from the Earth to the Sun is 1.00 AU (about 150 million kilometers, or 93 million miles). The closest distance that the Earth gets to the Sun (perihelion) is 0.98 AU, and the farthest (aphelion) is 1.02 AU. The change is small and, in fact, the Earth is actually farther away from the Sun during the summer in the northern hemisphere than it is during the winter. This clearly demonstrates how important the 23.5 tilt of the rotational axis is to the existence of seasons here on Earth. There are planets for which the changes in the distance around the Sun are larger and therefore a more important factor in determining their seasons. For example, the tilt of the rotational axis of Mars (25 ) is approximately the same as Earth s, but the distance from the Sun changes from 1.41 AU to 1.64 AU (with an average distance of 1.52 AU). The change in the distance is much larger than for Earth, and the resulting influence on the seasons much greater. IF Earth s rotational axis were not tilted, the seasons on Earth would be caused by the varying distance, but in this case, the seasonal changes would be nowhere near as significant as they are now. Since the Earth s rotational axis is tilted, contemplating about this is just a fun "What if?" exercise. It is important to stress that on the Earth, the seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth s rotational axis, not the changing distance from the Sun. Orbits, ets, and Satellites There are two angles that are important for the current discussion with regards to planets: obliquity and inclination angle. The planet s obliquity describes the angle between the equatorial plane and the orbital plane (or the "tilt" of the planet). The Earth s obliquity, as discussed earlier, is If a planet s obliquity is 0, the planet "spins upright" on its orbit around the Sun, and the Sun appears to be at the same height in the sky at noon each day during the year. Note that this height depends on the latitude of where you are at the equator, the Sun would appear to be directly overhead at noon every day during the year, while at the latitude of 30, it would get to be 60 above the horizon. Mercury s obliquity, for example, is very close to 0. Inclination is a way to describe how an object deviates from a horizontal position or how two geometric lines or planes differ in their direction. Inclination angle is 65

8 one of the basic parameters describing the orbit of an object around another object it describes the angle between the orbit of the object and some reference plane. For Earth-orbiting satellites, the reference plane is the Earth s equatorial plane. For a planet orbiting the Sun, the reference plane is the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth s orbit). Since the ecliptic is defined as the Earth s orbital plane, the inclination of Earth s orbit is 0. Geostationary orbits are in the equatorial plane of the Earth. Polar-orbiting satellites fly over the Earth close to the north-south direction, passing over or near the poles. Satellites in polar orbits can see the entire surface of the Earth, not just the areas near the equator. Inclined orbits fall between these two extremes: they have an inclination angle between 0 (equatorial orbit) and 90 (polar orbit). The orbit of the satellite is determined based on its intended use. The inclination of the orbit of artificial satellites (remember that moons are natural satellites) determines how they can view the Earth (see Figure 7). A satellite in a geostationary orbit is always in the same position in the sky as seen from the surface of the rotating Earth. That is, the orbital period of the satellite is the same as the rotational period of the Earth. MESSENGER, Distance, and Inclination The MESSENGER mission to Mercury poses a great engineering challenge because of the close distance of the planet to the Sun. During the mission, the spacecraft will be exposed to 5-11 times the amount of sunlight that it would near Earth, depending on where Mercury is in its orbit around the Sun. Since the Figure 7. Satellite orbits. Equatorial orbit is in the equatorial plane of the Earth. Geostationary orbit is a version of an equatorial orbit where the satellite stays over one specific place on Earth. A satellite on a polar orbit flies over the poles and sees the whole Earth. Inclined orbit is between these two extremes; the inclination of the orbit in the figure is about 60. [Note: satellite and its orbit not drawn to scale.] 66

10 Another approach, this one using inclination to stay cool, is to keep the solar panels from facing the Sun directly. Using this method, the temperature of the solar panels can be reduced by about 100 C, in addition to the 125 C cooling effect given by the spreadout design. Combined, these passive cooling methods will keep the solar panel temperatures at around 150 C (300 F) instead of the more than 400 C (750 F) they could experience otherwise. The third important aspect of the inclination for the mission is the fact that Mercury s rotation axis is not tilted. This means that as Mercury moves around its orbit during its year, the Sun appears to reach the same height in the sky at noon each day for example, directly overhead at the equator. At Mercury s poles, this means that the Sun appears very low in the horizon every day, all year round, apparently just crawling around the horizon as the planet rotates. This is not an important effect for the MESSENGER spacecraft itself, but it is the basis for one of the central science questions the mission is trying to answer. The low angle at which sunlight arrives at Mercury s poles makes it possible for ice to exist in permanently shaded craters that never see sunlight. Confirming or rejecting the idea of the existence of ice, suggested by Earth-based radar observations of Mercury, is one of the principal scientific goals of the MESSENGER mission. 68

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