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Dec. 22, 2010

The Seasons Mystify Matt Lauer. Join the Crowd.

by Ira Flatow

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Lunar Eclipse 2007
 
This week on the Today Show, Matt Lauer got stumped by one of the simplest questions: why do we have seasons? Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, was a guest explaining the lunar eclipse. Matt noted how it occurred right at the solstice and launched into one of the great myths of our time: winter has arrived because the earth is now its farthest from the sun. Before he could continue spreading this great misconception, he was interrupted by Tyson who would have none of it. He quickly pointed out the opposite: the sun will be millions of miles closer to the sun this winter than it will in July. It has nothing to do with the solstice, i.e. the seasons. “That’s a whole different show,” he said.
 
This is a very common misconception, i.e. that the seasons have something to do with how far away we are from the sun. Try this out: ask your friends why it’s hotter in the summer than in the winter. Chances are they will say it’s because the earth is closer to the sun than in the winter. That’s what 95% of Harvard graduates said when asked a few years ago, in a video special “A Private Universe.”
 
Then say, “if that’s true, then why is it winter in Australia when it’s summer up north?”
 
Expect lots of head scratching and much “hmmm, that’s a good question.”
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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