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 west twice a year—-on the spring and autumn equinoxes! The rest of the time it rises due south and sets north or northeast.
This generalization holds only on average; it does not apply to each and every part of the planet. On Earth, there are two large landmasses where the sun appears to rise directly east: Asia and Australia. But there are also two large landmasses where it seems to set directly west: North America and Africa. Overall, though, the sun's path across the sky is more north-south than east-west.
Why do we say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? Because until about 400 years ago, people lived their lives based on when the sun rose and set in the east and west directions respectively. They didn't realize that the sun moved around them throughout the year.
As far back as 2,000 B.C., people in eastern Asia believed that the sun stayed put in the sky and just changed direction with the seasons.
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 constant during a given day. Due to precession of the equinoxes, however, the point where it sets will shift over time from west to east.
In the Northern Hemisphere, if you walk north along the horizon at sunset, you will eventually reach a point where the sky becomes completely dark. The only thing illuminating the darkness is the sun, which is low on the horizon and causing twilight. North of the equator, daylight lasts longer than an hour and south of the equator it disappears entirely before night falls. In between these two extremes are the seasons. Winter days are shorter than summer days, and the angle at which the sun rises and sets each day is related to the season: it's more oblique in winter and more upright in summer.
In the Southern Hemisphere the situation is reversed. If you walk south at sunset, you will eventually reach a point where there is no trace of red left in the sky. It is now completely black. The only thing lighting up the darkness is the bright moon, which is high in the sky and can be seen clearly despite its small size.
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 at noon on March 20 and returns to its lowest point in the south at sunset on September 23.
South-south-east The sun sets in a south-easterly direction, so that half of Ireland is dark during part of the night. However, because we are not entirely north of the equator, some parts of Ireland will still be getting light even after the sun has gone down.
North-north-west The wind blows steadily from the north-north-west. If you walk in a northerly direction away from home, you are heading in the right direction. Although the wind changes direction frequently, it usually comes from the same direction, so that you can use this fact to your advantage. For example, if the wind is blowing from the north, you could head south for a time before turning back towards home.
West-west-south The wind always comes from the west or southwest. If you are travelling from one town to another, you will need to keep going in the same direction as the wind is coming from until you reach your destination.
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 in the northern hemisphere and eastern horizons at night. As a result, there is no real west or east, only north and south.
The earth is tilted on its axis so that we receive more rays from the sun during the summer than during the winter. Because of this tilt, we have days and nights on all sides of the globe, but most of these are not completely dark nor fully lighted. During a full moon, for example, when the earth's shadow falls on it, all landmasses are darkened to some degree.
This is why we see sunsets every day; they are just as common during the winter months as they are during the summer. Sunsets happen courtesy of the Earth's shadow which blocks out part of the sun's light. This darkness travels across the sky at the rate of 20 miles per second - about half the speed of light - causing bright colors in the atmosphere and providing us with another form of photography!