Well it’s here, believe it or not, Tuesday, June 21 is the first day of summer. So the sun has reached its apex and we haven’t really had any warm weather yet. Yes the long slow journey to winter has begun before we have reached summer. It’s a rather depressing way to view the solstice.
Let’s focus instead on it being the longest day of sunlight in the year. Although good luck with seeing the sun in the Kimberley/Cranbrook area. The forecast remains unfriendly.
Let’s dive into some facts around the solstice that I know you’ve been crying out to know.
This year’s solstice happens at exactly 3:14 a.m. MDT on June 21, per the Old Farmers’ Almanac.
1. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol “sun” and stitium “standing.” On the summer solstice, the sun’s path stops advancing northward each day and appears to “stand” still in the sky before going back the other way.
2. On the solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position, reaching the Tropic of Cancer and standing still before reversing direction and start moving south again. In fact, that’s how the Tropic of Cancer got its name. A few thousand years ago, the solstice happened when the sun was in the constellation of Cancer the Crab.
3. On the summer solstice, you may observe that the sun’s path across the sky is curved—not a straight line. It appears to rise and keeps veering to the right as it passes high overhead. This is quite different from the laser-straight path the Sun moves along in late March and late September, near the equinoxes.
4. You may also observe that the midday sun is highest up in the sky (or, lowest if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). But did you know that the sun’s highest point is getting lower and lower over time? That’s because Earth’s tilt is slowly decreasing.
5. It may be the “longest day,” but it’s not the latest sunset. Nor the earliest sunrise. The earliest sunrises happen before the summer solstice and the latest sunset after the summer solstice.
6. In India, the summer solstice ends the six-month period when spiritual growth is supposedly easiest.
7. On this day, the sun rises farthest left on the horizon, and sets at its rightmost possible spot. Sunlight strikes places in your home that get illuminated at no other time. You may want to dust.
You now know a lot about the summer solstice. But not as much as ancient civilizations did. From observation, those who built Stonehenge, the Sphinx and Machu Picchu in Peru knew that the sun’s path across the sky, length of day and location of the sunrise and sunset all changed throughout the year. The monuments were built to follow the sun across the sky.
Stonehenge is aligned with the June solstice sunrise.
If you stand at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and look towards the two great pyramids, the sun will set exactly between them.
And at Machu Picchu, but this time on the winter solstice because they are in the southern hemisphere, at dawn, when the very first light rises over the mountains, it shines through one of the two windows of the Temple of the Sun and illuminates the ceremonial stone within.
Now those are some feats of engineering. They didn’t even have to look up the facts online.