The sun "rises in the east and sets in the west," as most people are aware. Most individuals, however, are unaware that this is a generality. Actually, the sun only rises directly east and sets due westtwice a year—-onthe spring and autumn equinoxes! The other 18 months it crosses the sky north of east or south of west.
Why does it seem like it always rises in the east? Because we are always facing east towards the rising sun. If you were to look up at the night sky on a clear day with no clouds or pollution in the air, you would see that the Sun appears to rise in the east because that's where it is actually located relative to the Earth's surface.
Does this mean that there are two Suns? No, it means that we are only seeing one sun at any given time. When the Moon is out, for example, we cannot see both the Sun and the Moon at the same time because they are both light sources shining through the atmosphere. On a very dark day when there is no moonlight or sunlight from another source, however, we could possibly see both the Sun and the Moon at once.
On average, the Sun is 86400 miles away from the Earth but because it travels at over 50,000 miles per hour, it takes about 25 days to complete an orbit around the Earth.
The sun normally sets in the west, although technically it only sets due west at the spring and fall equinoxes. The direction of sunset pivots around this westerly point for the remainder of the year, shifting northerly in winter and southerly in summer. This is true even though the actual position of the sun remains relatively constant throughout the year.
In the northern hemisphere, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In the southern hemisphere, it rises in the south and sets in the north.
These are general rules, but they do not account for all possible exceptions. For example, during a total solar eclipse events occur in which the earth's shadow falls on the moon. During a total lunar eclipse, the moon takes on a reddish hue from Earth's atmosphere because all direct sunlight is blocked from reaching it. But since the moon is completely covered by the Earth's shadow, no light from the sun reaches it at all.
Lunar eclipses can also happen at other times during the month, such as just before or after full moon. These are called "perigee" or "apogée" lunar eclipses respectively. Perigee means "near moon" in Latin. Apogee means "far from moon" in Greek. Both terms refer to points in an orbit where the distance between the object and the center of mass is minimum and maximum respectively.
East The sun rises in an easterly direction, but only twice a year does it rise exactly straight east. In truth, the exact location of the sun when it rises fluctuates throughout the year. The Sun rises in its furthest southerly position beginning on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. It reaches its highest point in the sky during the summer solstice and begins to decline towards winter again before it has reached its lowest point near the equinoxes.
West The sun sets in a westerly direction, but only once a year does it set exactly west. In fact, the exact location where the sun sets fluctuates throughout the year. The Sun sets in its farthest northern position at the winter solstice and begins to rise again until it reaches its highest point in the sky at the summer solstice.
South The sun is said to rise in a south-eastern direction and set in a south-western direction. But actually, the sun's path across the sky is not exactly parallel with the Earth's surface. It passes above us, but it is also below us at times, which means that it crosses the equator from north to south instead of following the route taken by most planets.
North The sun is said to rise in a north-eastern direction and set in a north-westerly direction. But actually, the sun's path across the sky is not exactly perpendicular to the Earth's surface.
Have you ever wondered why the sunset's direction changes throughout the year? But because of the earth's rotation, we see western horizons during the day, then have to wait until night falls to see eastern ones.
The setting sun is getting farther away from you as it sinks below the horizon. This is why you need to travel west with increasing speed if you want to see a new part of the sky tonight. During the summer, when the earth is moving toward the sun, sunsets are seen in the east. In the winter, when it's moving away from the sun, they're seen in the west.
This is why sunsets appear orange or red in color during the summer and blue in the winter. Summertime colors come from oxygen molecules in the air that have been excited by the heat of the sun into a higher energy state. Wintertime colors come from oxygen molecules in the air that have been excited by cold weather into a higher energy state.
The direction in which a sunset appears to be going is called its altitude.