It seems like degrees on the thermometer climbing and the end of the school year signal the beginning of summer. In some parts of the country, (namely, Florida) summer and spring look and feel close to identical. The difference between the two, however, occurs every year toward the end of June, usually on either the 21st, 22nd, or 23rd of the month. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we will experience the Summer Solstice. During the Summer Solstice we a) we get a longer day and a shorter night and b) we have officially entered the summer season! But for those of us who don't know what a solstice is or what it means, this day can come and go without much fanfare. So here are some things that you should know before the Summer Solstice comes.
What does it mean?
The word solstice translates to "the sun standing still". Both the Earth's tilt and the location of the Sun make it look like the Sun isn't moving on the horizon. This is what causes the days to lengthen and the nights to shorten. The Summer Solstice is one of two Solstices that occur within the year. The Winter Solstice has the inverse effect with it causing longer nights and shorter days. These differ from the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox (these occur around March 21st and September 23rd respectively) which also signify the changing of the seasons but keep the days and nights about the same length.
These variations are only true for the Northern Hemisphere, though. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice is the Winter Solstice and vice versa. In addition, our longest day corresponds with the shortest day on the opposite side of the world.
How is it celebrated?
Though the Summer Solstice comes and goes without much fanfare (unless you're an astronomy aficionado) in the Northern Hemisphere, in some areas of the world, it is a major celebration. The rise and flooding of the Nile River correspond to the Summer Solstice (which is the Winter Solstice on that part of the globe). Romans traditionally celebrated a holiday celebration called Vestalia. On this holiday, married women left offerings for the goddess of the ceremony, Vesta. They left these offerings in the hopes of provision from the goddess for their families.
The most famous celebration of the Summer Solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge. The iconic United Kingdom site is said to have been built with the movements of the sun in mind. For that reason, many visitors come to see the sunrise at this location. There's no way to know what the rituals looked like in ancient times but many celebrations and feasts were likely held on the site to celebrate their faith or remember those who passed away.
Unlike pool parties and cookouts, the Summer Solstice is the true signal that spring is behind us and hot summer days are ahead. (Not necessarily the hottest days, though.) With the knowledge of the Summer Solstice, it is important to keep in mind that though it's not a particularly exciting occurrence in the Northern Hemisphere, it is both an important event within other cultures and a great opportunity to learn more about how our planet is affected by both the movement of the Sun and the Earth's angle at any given time of the year. Astronomy aficionados may want to track these movements and chart the path of the Sun across the atmosphere to gain a better understanding of this dynamic. But whether it is with a telescope and a globe or pool floaties and a burger fresh off the grill, we at NovaSTEMversity hope that this summer will be one full of fun and excitement for the whole family!
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