The celestial calendar denotes a significant shift on Wednesday, June 21, 2023, as we celebrate the commencement of summer in the Northern Hemisphere: the June solstice.
But what does the solstice signify? Is it truly the day with the most hours of daylight? The following are fascinating facts about the Summer Solstice provided by Almanac.com.
The concept of the June solstice, or Summer Solstice, holds an intriguing celestial significance in the Northern Hemisphere. This event takes place when the Sun meanders along its most northern trajectory in the sky. This signifies the start of the summer season.
By contrast, the Southern Hemisphere experiences the opposite phenomenon. There, the June solstice marks the beginning of winter.
This year’s solstice will occur at 10:58 A.M. EDT, establishing the official onset of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This pivotal moment happens when our planet aligns in its orbit such that the North Pole tilts maximally (around 23.5 degrees) towards the Sun, culminating in the longest day and shortest night of the year.
The “longest day” refers to the period with the highest number of sunlight hours. During this day, the Northern Hemisphere receives sunlight at the most direct angle all year. This is a stark contrast to the Southern Hemisphere, where winter commences.
The term “solstice” originates in Latin-solstitium, a fusion of sol (Sun) and stitium (still or stopped). The tilt of Earth’s axis leads to the Sun not rising and setting at the same locations on the horizon each day.
The sun’s positions of rise and set migrate northward or southward as our planet continues its annual journey around the Sun. In tandem, the Sun’s trajectory in the sky fluctuates in altitude throughout the year.
The June solstice is unique because the Sun reaches its peak position in the northern sky. From that point, it appears to halt for a brief period.
Following the solstice, the Sun seemingly reverses its course and starts to descend in the opposite direction. This phenomenon refers to the apparent path of the Sun when observed at the same time each day. For instance, at local noon.
Over the course of a year, this path forms a slightly squashed figure eight. This phenomenon is called an analemma.
The Sun is not physically moving, unless you account for its journey around the Milky Way galaxy. This apparent shift in the Sun’s position, noticeable to us on Earth, is driven by the tilt of Earth’s axis and its elliptical orbit around the Sun.
Many might ask, “Does the solstice always fall on the same calendar day?” The answer lies in the celestial mechanics.
The June solstice timing is not tied to a specific date or time, but is contingent on when the Sun hits its apex north of the celestial equator. Consequently, the solstice doesn’t always transpire on the same day and currently alternates between June 20, 21, and 22.
On the Summer Solstice, we witness the year’s longest stretch of daylight. The Sun ascends to its highest point in the sky. Its rays intersect Earth at a more direct angle. This causes the intense heat we associate with summer.
If you happen to be at the Tropic of Cancer or further north on the June solstice, you’ll see your shadow (at solar noon, not clock-time noon) shrink to its shortest length of the year. It will eventually reach a point where it completely vanishes.
Local noon refers to the moment when the Sun crosses the local meridian – an imaginary line that connects the North and South poles – and achieves its peak height in the sky for that day.
On the other side of the globe, in the Southern Hemisphere, this same day paints a very different picture. For the residents of this half of the world, the June solstice signifies the shortest day of the year and heralds the beginning of winter. This day is marked by the Sun’s lowest position in the sky.
The Summer Solstice symbolizes abundance, fertility, and the power of the sun. Various superstitions, rituals, and beliefs are associated with the summer solstice. Here are a few:
Many ancient cultures believed that the summer solstice possessed magical or healing powers. Some cultures, for instance, thought that plants harvested on this day had extra medicinal properties.
Fires are often lit during solstice celebrations. They symbolize the sun’s power and are thought to bring good luck. In some traditions, people leap over the flames believing it brings purification and protection.
Given the connection to growth and abundance, it’s not surprising that the summer solstice is often associated with fertility and love. There’s a belief in some cultures that marrying on the summer solstice will bring a marriage full of happiness and prosperity.
This plant is often associated with the summer solstice because it typically blooms around this time. In European folklore, it was believed to ward off evil spirits when hung over doors or windows and to protect against illnesses and disasters.
In some Northern European traditions, the shortest night of the year was thought to be a time when the veil between our world and the fairy world was thin, making encounters with these magical beings more likely.
Watching the sunrise or sunset on the day of the summer solstice is considered significant in many cultures. Some people believe that making a wish or setting an intention while watching the sunrise or sunset on the summer solstice will make it come true.
These are only a few examples, and the specific traditions and superstitions can vary widely based on regional and cultural differences. The common thread is the celebration of the sun, life, and abundance that the summer solstice represents.