June 21, 2023

It’s the longest day of the year! What the summer solstice means.

Mary Apel

On June 21 at 10:57 a.m. EST, the Northern Hemisphere will observe the summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year and the first official day of summer. Conversely, this moment marks the beginning of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Check out some facts and figures about what this actually means.

Solstices occur at the same time worldwide, but their local times vary based on time zones. The origin of the word solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium (a combination of sol, meaning sun, and stitium, meaning still or stopped). The Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted at about 23.4 degrees relative to Earth’s orbit around the sun, causing this phenomenon. This tilt drives our planet’s seasons, with the Northern and Southern Hemispheres receiving unequal amounts of sunlight each year. The Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice coincides with the sun appearing directly over the Tropic of Cancer, while the winter solstice sees the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

Although meteorologists use temperature records to define seasonal changes today, solstices and equinoxes have traditionally marked the changing of seasons. And speaking of temperature records, the solstices mark the brightest and darkest days of the year, but temps do not reflect this immediately. It takes time for the Earth’s land and water to heat up and cool down, so the coldest and warmest temperatures typically occur weeks after the solstices.

Stonehenge at summer solstice from the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Throughout history, cultures worldwide have celebrated solstices in different ways. For example, the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt appear to align with the sun during summer solstice, while Stonehenge in England lines up with the rising sun on this day. Many cultures have unique ways of marking the summer solstice, such as the traditional Scandinavian Midsummer holiday and the Slavic Ivan Kupala festival. Similarly, the Inca Empire celebrated Inti Raymi during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, while the ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with the Saturnalia festival. If you’re looking for a good way to celebrate, nothing beats a backyard bonfire, the most popular way to ring in the new seasons for millenia. Just remember to check for local burn bans and be safe!

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