ESS1.B: Earth and The Solar System
What are the predictable patterns caused by Earth's movement in the solar system?
- Introduction to ESS1.B
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for ESS1.B
- Performance Expectations Associated with ESS1.B
- Additional Resources for ESS1.B
The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects of varying sizes and conditions—including planets and their moons—that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. This system appears to have formed from a disk of dust and gas, drawn together by gravity.
Earth and the moon, sun, and planets have predictable patterns of movement. These patterns, which are explainable by gravitational forces and conservation laws, in turn explain many large-scale phenomena observed on Earth. Planetary motions around the sun can be predicted using Kepler’s three empirical laws, which can be explained based on Newton’s theory of gravity. These orbits may also change somewhat due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other bodies. Gradual changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun (over hundreds of thousands of years), together with the tilt of the planet’s spin axis (or axis of rotation), have altered the intensity and distribution of sunlight falling on Earth. These phenomena cause cycles of climate change, including the relatively recent cycles of ice ages.
Gravity holds Earth in orbit around the sun, and it holds the moon in orbit around Earth. The pulls of gravity from the sun and the moon cause the patterns of ocean tides. The moon’s and sun’s positions relative to Earth cause lunar and solar eclipses to occur. The moon’s monthly orbit around Earth, the relative positions of the sun, the moon, and the observer and the fact that it shines by reflected sunlight explain the observed phases of the moon.
Even though Earth’s orbit is very nearly circular, the intensity of sunlight falling on a given location on the planet’s surface changes as it orbits around the sun. Earth’s spin axis is tilted relative to the plane of its orbit, and the seasons are a result of that tilt. The intensity of sunlight striking Earth’s surface is greatest at the equator. Seasonal variations in that intensity are greatest at the poles.
Grade Band Endpoints for
By the end of grade 2. Seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset can be observed, described, and predicted.
By the end of grade 5. The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily and seasonal changes in the length and direction of shadows; phases of the moon; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year.
Some objects in the solar system can be seen with the naked eye. Planets in the night sky change positions and are not always visible from Earth as they orbit the sun. Stars appear in patterns called constellations, which can be used for navigation and appear to move together across the sky because of Earth’s rotation.
By the end of grade 8. The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. This model of the solar system can explain tides, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and the motion of the planets in the sky relative to the stars. Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year.
By the end of grade 12. Kepler’s laws describe common features of the motions of orbiting objects, including their elliptical paths around the sun. Orbits may change due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other objects in the solar system. Cyclical changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun, together with changes in the orientation of the planet’s axis of rotation, both occurring over tens to hundreds of thousands of years, have altered the intensity and distribution of sunlight falling on Earth. These phenomena cause cycles of ice ages and other gradual climate changes.