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The winter solstice occurs on Thursday, December 21, at 10:27 p.m. Yes, this is the “shortest” day of the year, but let’s talk about how many minutes each day the daylight increases afterward. Plus, we’ll discuss other ways you can see and feel the solstice.
What Happens on the Winter Solstice?
Here are the most tangible factors affecting your everyday life.
Your shadow will then extend to its longest length, which, granted, won’t make or break your day.
The real news is that we will then have the fewest minutes of daylight in 2023. On the solstice in December, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere have our shortest day and our longest night.
Starting Saturday, December 23, the days will start being longer, and the Sun will be slightly higher up
We’ll start feeling greater warmth on our skin, too! Solar intensity depends on the sun’s height. But since the ground and the air take awhile to catch up we won’t reach our coldest average temperature until the third week of January, a full month from now.
As for things you can easily observe, the most obvious solstitial effect is that you can look out your most southwest facing window on Thursday and again Friday and see the Sun set at its leftmost position of the year. If you’re an early riser and see the Sun come up at around 7:15 AM, that will happen at its rightmost possible spot, in the east/southeast.
The matchup with our clocks is less clear-cut. We already had our darkest afternoon on December 7 and will not suffer our darkest morning, meaning latest sunrise, until the first week of January. This is thanks to the lag between the days’ variable lengths caused by our planet moving at different speeds in our orbit and the inflexible length of each clock’s minutes and hours.
The psychologically optimistic part of all this is that starting Friday, December 22, 2023, we will stop losing daily sunlight, which has been going on since June, and instead finally start to increase it!
This gain will be minuscule at first, just a matter of seconds a day, but will steadily grow until daily daylight expands by three daily minutes per day in March. The exact amount of brightness gain depends on your location.
During my annual Aurora odyssey in Alaska, which has brought me there each winter for the past 30 years, we’ve noticed the March daylight expansion to be an amazing 7 minutes per day. That adds up to almost a full hour of extra daily sunshine each and every week! It’s so abrupt that it jarringly alters sleeping patterns, party times, taking afternoon strolls instead of skipping them, and so on.
But in most of the “lower 48” states, the extra daily sunshine in March is closer to 20 minutes after each week, the most the majority of us ever experience, like a slowly opened gift package.
Let’s take a more relatable location in the Midwest, Chicago.
If you look at the Almanac’s daylight tool for Chicago, there are just 9 hours, 11 minutes of daylight during the week leading up to Christmas.
But to include other astronomy into all this, be aware that a radical planet change is also en route to us. Right now, at the winter solstice, every planet is nicely visible while late spring will find them vanishing one by one.
So, this winter solstice is really a time of major activity here in the old solar system.
Bob Berman, astronomer editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob is the world’s most widely read astronomer and has written ten popular books. Read More from Bob Berman