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Happy Solstice

Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 16:33 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Smiling sunToday is the summer solstice, my favorite day of the year. I’m not into astrology or pagan earth worship. I am not going into a meadow to beat drums and gaze skyward. I don’t care about the spiritual significance of this date. It isn’t even the fact that this is officially the first day of summer. My reason is much more basic.

I love this day best of all because it has the most daylight. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, “day” meaning the time between sunrise and sunset. In other words, today brings lots of sunlight.

Like many people, I find darkness to be somewhat depressing, so the winter months are trying for me. There is actually a mental/medical condition known as Season Affective Disorder in which lack of sunlight causes or exacerbates clinical depression. I don’t have SAD, but I do notice less spring in my step when it gets dark earlier.

In addition to boosting my mood, the extended daylight given me extra opportunities to get yard work done after work. I can mow, pull weeds, plant, and water until as late as 8:30, which means my weekends are free for other pursuits.

Solstices and equinoxes (click to view larger)What exactly is the solstice, and why does it happen? The astronomical explanation of a solstice is that one end of the earth’s axis is pointed more toward the sun than it is at any other time. Technically, the solstice isn’t a day but a moment. At the June solstice, it is the north pole that is most tilted toward the sun; at the December solstice, it’s the south pole. Another characteristic of the solstice is that the sun is directly overhead at approximately the 23rd parallel (north at the June solstice, south at the December solstice). These lines of latitude are also known as the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere.

June/summer solstice (click to view larger)Other significant lines of latitude are the Arctic circle (approximately the 66th north parallel) and Antarctic circle (the 66th south parallel). Standing on the Arctic circle in the northern hemisphere on the June solstice, the sun sets to but not below the horizon, whereas at the December solstice, the sun rises to but not above the horizon. Standing on the Antarctic Circle in the southern hemisphere, the same phenomena can be observed but at opposite times of year.

Confused? I’m not surprised. What I’d like to do is explain all this using a flashlight to signify the sun, a tennis ball with a skewer through the middle to signify the earth on its axis, and a dark room to signify the vast expanse of space. But since I currently have none of those at my disposal, not to mention a video camera, I instead refer you to this video. It was made for the solstice last year, but it represents what happens at every June solstice.

Just thought you might like to know. You’re welcome.

Categories: weather & climate
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