Today is the Summer Solstice, occurring at 5:51 am central time, or at 10:51 Universal Time. While we are observing the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere, people in the southern hemisphere are observing the Winter Solstice.
In the Gregorian calendar the solstice dates vary between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year. For example, it occurs on June 21 in 2014 and 2015 but on June 20 in 2016. A June 22 solstice will not occur until June 22, 2203. The last time there was a June 22 solstice was in 1971.
A solstice occurs when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. During the June solstice it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.5 degrees. It is also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere.
If the Earth’s rotation was at right angles to the plane of its orbit around the sun, there would be no solstice days and no seasons.
The June solstice day has the longest hours of daylight for those living north of the equator. Those living or traveling to the north of the Arctic Circle are able to see the “midnight sun”, where the sun remains visible throughout the night, while those living or traveling south of the Antarctic Circle will not see sun during this time of the year. For those living near the equator, the sun does not shift up and down in the sky as much compared with other geographical locations away from the equator during this time of the year. This means that the length of day does not vary as much.
The June solstice marks the first day of the summer season in the northern hemisphere. The word solstice is from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning “sun-stopping”, because the point at which the sun appears to rise and set stops and reverses direction after this day. On this day, the sun does not rise precisely in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west allowing it to be in the sky for a longer period of time.
In the southern hemisphere, the June solstice is known as the shortest day of the year. It is when the sun has reached its furthest point from the equator and marks the first day of winter.
In ancient times, solstices and equinoxes were important in guiding people to develop and maintain calendars, as well as helping them to grow crops. It was important for many people, especially those who spent a considerable amount of time outdoors, to understand the seasons and weather, which played a key role in their lives. Over the centuries, the June solstice was a time when festivals, celebrations and other festivities were celebrated.
We have reached the halfway point of the year and have shorter days to look forward to until the shortest day, the Winter Solstice, and the process starts all over again.
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