On the two equinoxes, this circle represents the passage of the sun from dawn to night. During the summer, the Sun rises north of the true East and sets north of the true West, but during the winter, the Sun rises south of the real East and sets south of the true West. This is called the solar tilt.
The earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its orbital plane; instead, it leans slightly toward one side or the other. The angle between the axis and the orbit is called the axial tilt. It changes over time as well as from place to place on the surface of the earth. The average axial tilt over a long period of time is 23.4 degrees, but at any given moment it can be more or less than that. When it is low (less than 22.5 degrees), we get more of the northern hemisphere in darkness each day at mid-winter compared to mid-summer; when it is high (more than 24.5 degrees), we get more of the southern hemisphere in darkness at those times.
The rising and setting times vary slightly from day to day. At the summer solstice, the sun rises as far northeast as it ever does and sets as far northwest as it ever does. The sun rises a little more south every day after that. The sun rises straight east and sets due west during the autumn equinox. It takes about 12 hours for the sun to rise and set completely on the equinox.
At the winter solstice, the sun rises as far southwest as it ever does and sets as far north as it ever does. The sun rises directly west and sets directly north during the spring equinox.
At the summer solstice, the sun is at its highest point in the sky and can be seen over an area of the Earth up to 150 miles wide. At the winter solstice, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky and can only be seen from an area of the Earth as small as West Virginia. During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun entirely, causing darkness where the eclipse occurs. But wherever you are on Earth, the sun is showing you something important about distance and direction. It's like a giant compass pointing you in the right direction even when you can't see it!
The sun rises in the east (near the arrow), moves to the left, culminates in the north (to the right), and sets in the west (far the arrow). In midsummer, rising and setting positions are shifted to the south, whereas in midwinter, they are shifted to the north. The sun sets in the west (near the arrow) at spring equinox, and in the south at summer solstice and winter solstice.
During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun, causing darkness to fall over a large part of Earth for a few minutes or longer. The path of totality passes through some parts of Asia, Africa, and North America. Total solar eclipses are visible from everywhere on Earth except directly under the path of the moon's shadow.
During a partial solar eclipse, only part of the sun is obscured by the moon. This causes shadows to fall along the earth's surface that can be seen during a partial solar eclipse. These shadows are called "astronomical" because it is during astronomical observations when observers look up at the sky that they often see points of light falling along the ground that have nothing to do with any planet or star. Such lights are actually stars that lie within our galaxy far beyond the moon's influence. Stars appear as dots of light because we cannot see them directly; instead, we see their spectral lines emitted when sunlight travels through space and hits atoms in gases such as oxygen or nitrogen.