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Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Interactive Media
  • Data

Regional Focus


The Reason for the Seasons: How the Earth and Sun Interact to Create Seasons

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  • This interactive simulation depicts Earth's orbit around the Sun to demonstrate the changing seasons.
  • Students can manipulate the simulation with various controls and change the view, add rotation, add or change the speed of the orbit, or see where the Earth is in its orbit during a specific month.
Teaching Tips


  • The few simple controls will help students not to be overwhelmed.
  • The map view clearly shows students where the sun's energy is most concentrated at different points in the year.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should know the sun's role in the seasons and how the Earth orbits around the Sun.
  • Walk students through the controls before having them do any independent exploration.


  • Discuss how the Earth's orbit and rotation affect the climate of different regions. Extend the discussion to evaluate how those climates are changing.
  • Creative writing classes can have students imagine their year with a different orbit and rotation. How are the seasons different?
  • Math students can analyze the data on the side of the simulation and toggle on or off the insolation curve, which provides the data for the amount of energy from the Sun at different latitudes.
  • Students in social studies classes can research and discuss how different groups in the past have interpreted and used knowledge about the Earth's rotation and orbit to influence their calendars and culture.
  • Have students identify the solstices and equinoxes using the simulator.
Scientist Notes
This web applet from the University of Wisconsin Madison is a useful tool for understanding how the Earth’s orbit around the sun causes the four seasons. This model is well-sourced, using NASA data to clearly show how solar insolation varies geographically and seasonally. The one small criticism that could be levied is that nothing is to scale in this simulation, though this is acknowledged in a pop up notice. Overall, this resource is interactive, educational and is recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Science
    • ESS1: Earth's Place in the Universe
      • MS-ESS1-1. Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.
      • HS-ESS1-4. Use mathematical or computational representations to predict the motion of orbiting objects in the solar system.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
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