7 Facts About the June Solstice

June Solstice at Stonehenge

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This year, the June solstice falls on two different days: Wednesday, the 21st, for those in Eastern Standard Time, and Tuesday, the 20th, for time zones further west!. Enjoy seven cool (or, is it hot?) solstice facts—and see how many you know!

If you ask friends what happens on the summer solstice, they’re likely to get it right. It’s the longest day of the year, meaning, the most minutes of sunshine. And the midday Sun is highest up in the sky, or lowest if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.

But now look more deeply …

  • What’s not widely known is that on the solstice, the Sun moves through the sky along its most curving path. It rises and keeps veering to the right as it passes high overhead—quite different from the laser-straight path the Sun moves along in late March and late September.

It’s fun to share little-known facts about the Sun. For example, not many are aware that the kind of energy the Sun emits most strongly is not ultraviolet, or gamma rays, or even visible light. It’s actually infra-red. That’s the Sun’s strongest emission. The kind we feel as heat.

As for the Sun’s visible emissions, its strongest is: Green light. That’s why our eyes are maximally sensitive to that color.

More Solstice Facts

Let’s continue with more fun facts about the Sun, but limit them to the solstice.

  • The solstice Sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer. In fact, that’s how the topic of cancer got its name. It’s the southernmost line connecting all places on Earth where the Sun is ever straight up. That’s because a few thousand years ago, the solstice happened when the Sun was in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. Thanks to the wobble of our axis, this Wednesday, the Sun is in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. So somebody should go down there and change all the signs to Tropic of Taurus.
  • This Wednesday’s solstice is when folks in the Northern Hemisphere see the highest  Sun of the year. But it’s getting less high over time. That’s because Earth’s tilt is slowly decreasing.
  • The solstice is when the Sun is lowest in the sky for those at the equator.
  • The word solstice comes from the two Latin words “sun” and “stoppage.” Makes sense: the Sun stops moving north that day.
  • In India, the summer solstice ends the six-month period when spiritual growth is supposedly easiest. Better hurry, you only have a few days left.
  • That day, the Sun rises farthest left on the horizon, and sets at its rightmost possible spot. Sunlight strikes places in your rooms that get illuminated at no other time.

With all that, most people care about one single solstice fact:

“It’s the start of summer!” (Or, winter, if you live below the equator).   

Live Show! Celebrate the Solstice!

On Wednesday, June 21, at 5:00 PM EDT (2:00 PM PDT), celebrate the solstice with a live event, featuring extraordinary views of the Sun streamed from Slooh observatory partners all over the world, including close-up views from Prescott Observatory in Prescott, Arizona, wide angle views from New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Hawaii, and other locations around the globe. This year, Slooh’s solstice show also features several astronomy experts speaking about the solstice, including Bill Nye The Science Guy and Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, who will also preview 2017’s biggest event, the Transcontinental Total Solar Eclipse, which will sweep across the continental U.S. on August 21. Wow! Click here to watch the Summer Solstice Show—for free, compliments of Slooh.

 

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Wondering which bright objects you’re seeing in the night sky? Want to learn about a breathtaking sight coming up? Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, we’ll cover everything under the Sun (and Moon)!

Reader Comments

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solstice and angle of the sun

Since moving into our house 22 years ago,we have noticed in recent years that the light coming through our back door window has changed.The band of light on the floor used to disappear at the summer solstice and then gradually reappear as we approached winter. The band of light now remains during all seasons and we now can confirm that the reason is the change in the earth's tilt.

Solstice facts

It's not really the start of Summer; it's Midsummer for a reason. The days (sunlight) start getting shorter. The seasons have many different definitions; Meteorological summer started on June 1st; back in the day, Summer started on May 1, thus mid-June was mid-Summer according to that calculation. Personally, I follow the meteorological dates (Dec. 1, March 1, June 1, and September 1) to reckon the seasons. The Summer Solstice is fun and has a rich folklore, but for me, it doesn't mark the start of Summer.

first day of astronomical summer

Correct. The June solstice marks the first day of astronomical summer in the Northern Hemisphere, though it’s more common today to use meteorological definitions and what it “feels” like outside.  The Almanac also recognizes Midsummer Day, which is a pagan holiday rich in folklore and traditionally marks the midpoint of the farmer’s growing season.  Right now, you are on an astronomy blog, so Bob is using astronomical definitions, i.e., the summer solstice happens when the Sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the summer solstice, the Sun reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the Sun.

Longest Day

There was another blog a while back explaining that while the Solstice is the longest day, the few weeks following it may actually seem longer because of the sunrise/sunset times, or something like that. Can you point me to that article? Thanks-

longest day of the year

Hi Tracy,  Sorry we’re not sure which blog you’re referencing. We do have an article that mentions why the solstice isn’t the hottest day of the year—as it takes a while for the atmosphere to warm up: http://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-summer-summer-solstice . The solstice is indeed the day that receives the most daylight of the year.  The way to check day length is with our sunrise/set tool which is customized to your location: http://www.almanac.com/sun/rise

Equinox

On a related note, we do have an equinox article that speaks to the fact that the equinox—which literally means “equal night”—is not actually 12 hours night and 12 hours day. On the date of each equinox, there are more than 12 hours of daylight. The reasons are a little complicated. Equal day/night would require us to measure sunrise/sunset at the exact moment that the exact center of the Sun appears above/disappears below the horizon, however, we actually define sunrise and sunset as the moment that the Sun’s disk become visible above/below the horizon. In addition, the Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight which also causes the Sun to become visible a few minutes before the edge technically reaches the horizon. Basically, these factors cause some differences in timing so that our manmade clocks won’t measure perfectly equal day/night hours on the equinoxes. Hope you find this helpful—and interesting!

Southernmost?

"The solstice sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer. In fact, that’s how the topic of cancer got its name. It’s the southernmost line connecting all places on Earth where the Sun is ever straight up." Southernmost? I would have thought that was at the winter solstice....

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