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If the sun never rises above the tropic of cancer and never goes bellow (southern) of the tropic of capricorn then it seems that it should appear to the observer lower and lower in the horizon for as we move north. But from what I have seen this is not what I have observed traveling in northern and southern countries.
Am I not remembering right or is my expectation wrong?

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Your explanation is correct, so you are not remembering correctly. The farther north you go, the lower the sun is to the horizon at noon.

Of course it depends on how far north you go. If you only travel 5° farther north in latitude, then the sun is only 5° lower in the sky. 5° is a "long" ways to travel on the earth, but in the sky 5° lower is not that noticeable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why do you specify "at noon"? I don't remember not having to look upwards to see the sun. Shouldn't I see the sun without even looking up? (meaning turning my head upwards) $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 27 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim, because the Sun always appears low on the horizon at sunrise and sunset. If you want a meaningful comparison of elevations, you need to pick a time to do the comparison, and noon has the advantage of being the time of maximum elevation. $\endgroup$ – Mark Apr 27 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: Ah ok makes sense. But still I don't understand why the observer should need to raise the head upwards instead of looking straight in the horizon keeping the straight head. $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 27 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim: From what latitudes (or city, state, country) have you made your observation? From knowing the latitude, the maximum altitude of the sun (at noon) on the first day of summer would be 90-latitude+23.5, and on the first day of winter the maximum altitude would be 90-latitude-23.5. From that, you can decide whether the Sun is low enough in the sky to be visible when looking horizontally or not. (I think our peripheral vision in the up-and-down direction is more limited than in the side-to-side direction.) Both formula for northern hemisphere and angle is above southern horizon. $\endgroup$ – JohnHoltz Apr 28 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnHoltz: I was thinking that I should not need to raise my chin up to see the sun over the tropics. But then it occurred to me that it might be due to the earth's curvature $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 29 at 16:34
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I am not sure how your observations are so mistaken, but this is exactly what happens. In fact at high latitudes, there will be parts of the year when the sun never rises above the horizon. Try going north of the Arctic Circle in winter and you'll see what I mean.

All I can think is that either you have not travelled very far north or south, or you have travelled to northern or southern countries only in their summer and not paid attention to the sun's apparent movement.

I grew up at 59 degrees North, and one of the very obvious signs of the seasons is how low the sun is to the horizon for the winter months. This makes for long sunsets while the sun moves along the horizon.

Conversely, at the equator, the sun goes overhead, and sunsets are rapid, as it comes down near perpendicularly to the horizon.

Have a look at this ohio-state.edu lecture page for some useful info on apparent motion of celestial bodies, like:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ This diagram helps. I think in my mind I was thinking that the observer is perpendicular to the earth and didn't take the curvature into account. That's why I was thinking that I should not need to raise my chin to see the sun $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 29 at 17:14

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