How the Date
Affects the Direction of Sunrise and Sunset

To find directions by the sun, you must first understand how the sun works--where it rises and sets, and how it moves across the sky.

Most people, I suppose, think the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. And it does--for two days out of the year. The rest of the year, however, it rises somewhere north or south of east, and sets somewhere north or south of west.

How far north or south of east it rises, and how far north or south of west it sets depends on two factors:

  1. the date, and
  2. your latitude

On this page, we'll go over how the date affects the direction of sunrise and sunset.

On the March equinox of each year--that is to say on or about March 21--the sun rises due east and sets due west.

Sunrise Screenshot Courtesy of Neave Planetarium

After the March equinox, with each passing day the sun rises a bit farther to the north of east, and sets that same bit farther to the north of west. 

Finally, on the June solstice--on or about June 21-- the sun rises as far to the north of east as it will ever rise, and sets as far to the north of west as it will ever set.

Sunrise Screenshot Courtesy of Neave Planetarium

On the days following the June solstice, the sun rises each day a bit closer to due east, and sets each day a bit closer to due west. This pattern continues until the day of the September equinox--on or about September 23--when the sun once again rises due east and sets due west.

Sunrise Screenshot Courtesy of Neave Planetarium

After the September equinox, the sun rises each successive day a bit farther south of east, and sets an equal bit farther south of west.

On the December solstice--on or about December 21--the sun rises as far south of east as it will ever rise, and sets as far south of west as it will ever set.

Sunrise Screenshot courtesy of Neave Planetarium

After the December solstice, the direction of sunrise and sunset gets closer to due east and due west each day until the time of the March equinox, when it once again rises due east and sets due west.

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