Solstice Fast Facts

The largest solstice celebration in the world is at Stonehenge in England.
The largest solstice celebration in the world is at Stonehenge in England.

The solstice is the longest or shortest day of the year, depending on whether you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. It marks the official beginning of summer and winter. Here’s a collection of useful and interesting solstice facts.

The Solstice Marks the Longest and Shortest Day of the Year

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. Even though every “day” is 24 hours long, the sun shines longer the closer you live to the pole. At the pole, the sun doesn’t set, while at the equator the solstice doesn’t really make a difference and daylight lasts about 12 hours. Between the pole and equator, there are more than 12 hours of daylight. In Alaska, there is a midnight baseball game on the night of the summer solstice, to celebrate the unending day.

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. At the poles, the sun doesn’t rise. At the equator, it’s business as usual. Between the pole and the equator, there is less than 12 hours of daylight. In other words, it’s the longest night of the year.

The Sun Rises and Sets More Slowly

The time required for the disk of the sun to cross the horizon is shortest at the equinox and longest as the solstice. If you want to take your time watching a sunrise or sunset, the solstice is the perfect date.

The Earth Is Closest and Farthest From the Sun

The June solstice marks the point at which the Earth is at its farthest point from the Sun, while the Earth and Sun are closest on the December solstice. Even though the entire Earth is closest to the Sun in December, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere because the north is tilted away from the Sun. In June, the Earth is farthest from the Sun, but the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward it (beginning summer) and the Southern Hemisphere is tilted away (beginning winter).

It Falls on June 20-22 or December 21 or 22

In 2019, the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere falls on June 21. In other years, it may occur on June 20 or 22. In the north, the Sun reaches its most northerly point. When it is directly overhead, it crosses the Tropic of Cancer at 23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude. The northern winter solstice is on December 21 or 22. It’s December 22 in 2019. Here the sun is at is most southerly position, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 degrees 7 minutes south latitude.

The Solstice Marks the Beginning of Summer and Winter

While the June is solstice is usually called the summer solstice, it’s actually the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. The December solstice is often called the winter solstice, but it marks the official beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Even though the solstice marks the beginning of the season, summer gets hotter and winter gets colder following the date. The reason has to do with the heat capacity of water. Even though the sun shines longest on the summer solstice, it takes a while for water to warm up. In the winter, it takes time for water to cool down.

Solstice Means the Sun Stands Still

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The sun doesn’t pause in the sky. What it means is if you track the noon position of the sun in the sky, you’ll see it doesn’t appear to change much on the solstice and the days around it. As you move closer to the equinox, the position of the sun in the sky changes more noticeably.

The Solstice Is Celebrated With Fire

Together, the solstices represent fire and ice or fire and water. One way to celebrate the holiday is with a bonfire. The world’s tallest bonfire was built at Ă…lesund, Norway, for the 2016 summer solstice. It was 155.5 feet tall! In ancient Europe, the solstice and midsummer were associated with the festival Litha. One event at a Litha celebration involved lighting a giant wheel afire and rolling it into water. The Chinese also associated the solstices with fire and water. The summer solstice was associated with yang and the winter solstice with yin.

There Could Have Been a Solstice Month

In 1902, Moses B. Cotsworth proposed a calendar in which every month contained four even weeks. For this to work, he needed to add an extra month. He suggested adding a month between June and July, which could be named Sol because it would always include the solstice. Although the new calendar made good sense, it never got adopted.

Stonehenge Is the Place to Be

Each year, thousands of people flock to Stonehenge in England to celebrate the solstice. Scientists don’t know whether the ancient pagans gathered at the site to honor the celestial event, but the stones do align with the summer and winter solstices. It’s the perfect day to take a Stonehenge photo.