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A NASA satellite instrument, CERES, took these images in 2004 and 2005. The images are measurements of the Earth’s albedo—the amount of solar radiation reflected from Earth back into space. 
The CERES images show a radical difference in albedo between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, as well as between the December and June solstices. The Southern Hemisphere reflects a tremendous amount of radiation during the December solstice (top image), while the Northern Hemisphere reflects more radiation in June.
Instructional Ideas
Consult National Geography Standard 7.2 (4th grade): The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface. Earth-Sun relationships affect conditions on Earth.
Discuss the relationship between the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun and changes experienced on Earth:
• temperature
• light
• different impacts of solar radiation on land and water
Questions in the "Questions" tab explore some ways solar radiation differs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres on the solstices.
  1. Why do you think the Southern Hemisphere reflects so much more solar radiation than the Northern Hemisphere during the December solstice? This illustration might help you.

  2. When the polar region of the Northern Hemisphere is reflecting the maximum amount of sunlight (the June solstice), it doesn’t reflect nearly as much light as the polar region of the Southern Hemisphere when it reflects its maximum amount of sunlight (December solstice). Why do you think the Southern Hemisphere reflects more solar radiation?

  3. The 2013 December solstice will occur on Saturday, December 21. Will it be the shortest or longest day of the year?

  • According to CERES, the amount of solar energy received at the North Pole is 30% higher during the summer solstice than the amount of solar energy received at the Equator.

  • Clouds do most of the reflecting in these NASA images. (In fact, CERES, the instrument responsible for these images, stands for Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System.)

  • Solar radiation measured by CERES includes not just the visible spectrum of light, but ultraviolet and infrared—wavelengths too short (ultraviolet) or too long (infrared) for the human eye to see. 

scientific measurement of the amount of sunlight that is reflected by a surface.


half of a sphere, or ball-shaped object.


process of determining length, width, mass (weight), volume, distance or some other quality or size.


(National Aeronautics and Space Administration) the U.S. space agency, whose mission statement is "To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."


to rebound or return light from a surface.


object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.


period of the year distinguished by special climatic conditions.

solar radiation

light and heat from the sun.


astronomical event that occurs twice a year, when the sun appears directly overhead to observers at the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn.


visible radiation from the sun.


very large or important.