Summer begins with the solstice on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 marking the astronomical first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. What exactly IS the solstice? Is it really the longest day of the year? Welcome the solstice with some interesting facts andfolklore.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the June solstice (aka summer solstice) occurs when the Sun travels alongits northernmost pathin the sky. Thismarks the astronomical start of summer in the northern half of the globe.(In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite: the June solstice marks the astronomical start of winterwhen the Sun is at its lowest point in thesky.)
When is the SummerSolstice?
The June solstice occurs onWednesday, June 21, 2023, at 10:58 A.M. EDT.
Winter Solstice 2023: The First Day of Winter
7 Facts About the June Solstice—Plus, a Solstice Quiz!
When Do the Seasons Start and End in 2023?
This solstice marks the official beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, occurring when Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt (about 23.5 degrees) toward the Sun, resulting in the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year. (By longest “day,” we mean the longest period of sunlight hours.) On the day of the June solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives sunlight at the most direct angle of theyear.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice marks the beginning of winter.
|Year||Summer Solstice (Northern Hemisphere)||Summer Solstice (Southern Hemisphere)|
|2023||Wednesday, June 21, at 10:58 A.M. EDT||Thursday, December 21|
|2024||Thursday, June 20, at 4:51 P.M. EDT||Saturday, December 21|
|2025||Friday, June 20, at 10:43 P.M. EDT||Sunday, December 21|
|2026||Sunday, June 21, at 4:24 A.M. EDT||Monday, December 21|
What Is the SummerSolstice?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the June solstice (aka summer solstice) occurs when the Sun reachesits highest and northernmost points in the sky. It marks the start of summer in the northern half of the globe. (In contrast, the June solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky, marking the start ofwinter.)
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). Due to Earth’s tilted axis, the Sun doesn’t rise and set at the same locationson the horizon each morning and evening; its rise and set positions movenorthward or southward in the sky asEarth travels around the Sun through the year. Also, the Sun’s track in the sky becomes higher or lower throughout the year. The June solstice is significant because the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky at this time, at which point the Sun’s path does not change for a brief period oftime.
After the solstice, the Sun appears to reverse course and head back in the opposite direction. The motion referred to here is the apparent path of the Sun when one views its position in the sky at the same time each day, for example, at local noon. Over the year, its path forms a sort of flattened figure eight, called an analemma. Of course, the Sun itself is not moving (unless you consider its orbit around the Milky Way galaxy); instead, this change in position in the sky that we on Earth notice is caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis as it orbits the Sun, as well as Earth’s elliptical, rather than circular,orbit.
Does the Solstice Always Occur on the SameDay?
The timing of the June solstice is not based on a specific calendar date or time; it all depends on when the Sun reaches its northernmost point from the celestial equator. Therefore, the solstice won’t always occur on the same day. Currently, it shifts between June 20, 21, and22.
The Year’s LongestDay
The Summer Solstice is the day with the longest period of sunlight. Notice how the Sun appears highest in the sky at the solstice; its rays strike Earth at a more direct angle, causing the efficient warming we callsummer.
For those locations at the Tropic of Cancer and northward, the Sun is highest in the sky on the June solstice, and you’ll notice that your shadow (at local, or solar, noon, not clock-time noon) is the shortest that it will be all year (in fact, at the Tropic of Cancer there will be no shadow). [Local noon is when the Sun crosses the local meridian (an imaginary line between the North and South poles) and is highest in the sky for theday.]
For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice is the shortest day of the year and marks the arrival ofwinter.
→See 7 fun facts about the June solstice!
Q: Is the Summer Solstice the First Day ofSummer?
A:Yes and no… Technically, it depends on whether we’re speaking about the meteorological or astronomical start of the season. Most meteorologists divide the year into four seasons based on the months and the temperature cycle, which allows them to compare and organize climate data more easily. In this system, summer begins on June 1 and ends on August 31.Therefore, the summer solstice is not considered to be the first day of summer, meteorologicallyspeaking.
Astronomically, however, the first day of summer is said to be when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, which occurs on the summer solstice (June 20–22). Therefore, the summer solstice is considered to be the first day of summer, astronomicallyspeaking.
As an almanac, which is defined as a “calendar of the heavens,” we prefer to follow the astronomical interpretation of the seasons and do consider the first day of summer to coincide with the summer solstice. That being said, you may choose to follow whichever system you likebest!
There is also a commondebate regarding how the exact timing of the solstice affects the first day of the season. For example, if the solsticeoccurs at 11:30 P.M. on a Saturday, should we consider that Saturday to be the first day of summer, or should we instead consider the following day (Sunday) to be the first day? It tends todifferby whichever source youfollow.
Q: Is the Summer Solstice the Longest Day of theYear?
A: Yes!As spring ends and summer begins, the daily periods of sunlight lengthen to their longest on the solstice, then begin to shortenagain.
On the solstice, the Sun is at its highest point in the sky, and it takes longer for it to rise and set. (Note:When the Sun appears highest in the sky near the summer solstice, the full Moon opposite the Sun generally appears lowest in thesky!)
On the winter solstice, just the opposite occurs: The Sun is at its lowest in the sky. At this time, the sun’s rays hit part of Earth at an oblique angle, creating feeble wintersunlight.
Use our handy sunrise and sunset calculatorto figure out how many hours of sunlight you’ll get in your location on thesolstice!
Q: Why Doesn’t the Summer Solstice Fall on the Same Date EachYear?
A: The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere ranges in date from June 20 to 22. This occurs in part because of the difference between the Gregorian calendar system, which normally has 365 days, and the tropical year (how long it takes Earth to orbit the Sun once), which has about 365.242199 days. To compensate for the missing fraction of days, the Gregorian calendar adds a leap day about every 4 years, which makes the date for summer jump backward. However, the date also changes because of other influences, such as the gravitational pull from the Moon and planets, as well as the slight wobble in Earth’srotation.
Q:Why isn’t the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year—also the hottest day of theyear?
A: Earth’s atmosphere, land, and oceans absorb part of the incoming energy from the Sun and store it, releasing it back as heat at various rates. Water is slower to heat (or cool) than air or land. At the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives the most energy (highest intensity) from the Sun due to the angle of sunlight and day length. However, the land and oceans are still relatively cool, due to spring’s temperatures, so the maximum heating effect on air temperature is not felt just yet. Eventually, the land and, especially, oceans will release stored heat from the summer solstice back into the atmosphere. This usually results in the year’s hottest temperatures appearing in late July, August, or later, depending on latitude and other factors. This effect is called seasonal temperaturelag.
Q: What is Midsummer Day (June24)?
A:Historically, Midsummer Day marked the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvest. It is traditionally known as one of four “quarter days” in some cultures. Folks celebrated by feasting, dancing, singing, and preparing for the hot summer days ahead.Read more about the ancient Quarter Days!
Go strawberry picking. Enjoy a big bowl of strawberries and cream on the solstice.
There are many people—like the Swedes—who celebrate the beginning of summer by eating the first strawberries of the season. Indulging in some strawberries and cream is the perfect way to celebrate the June solstice, since June’s full Moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon. It typically coincided with the ripening of strawberries in what is now the northeastern and midwestern United States. In fact, in many states, this is the perfect time to go strawberry picking! Look uppick-your-own-strawberryfarms in yourarea!
Have a solstice eveningbonfire!
Many northern people also celebrate a solstice holiday known as Midsummer’s Day on June 24, which is one of the four ancient quarter days of the year.The eve prior is called Midsummer’s Eve, marking the shortest night of the year. A common way to celebrate is to have a bonfire party! After all, these northern people have emerged from some long, dark winters! In the Austrian state of Tyrol, torches and bonfires are lit up on mountainsides, which is a stunningly beautifulsight.
According to ancient Latvian legend, Midsummer’s Eve(St. John’s Eve) on June 23 is spent awake by the glow of a bonfire and in pursuit of a magical fern flower—said to bring good luck—before cleansing one’s face in the morningdew.
The solstice does NOT bring the earliestsunrise
Although the day of the solstice has the most daylight hours of the year, the earliest sunrises of the year occur before the summer solstice. The exact timing will depend in part on your latitude: In the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs about a week earlier than the Junesolstice.
The reason for the timing of sunrises is related to the inclination of the Earth’s rotational axis and Earth’s elliptical (rather than circular)orbit.
The latest sunsets of the year will occur several days after the solstice, again depending onlatitude.
The Sun sets more slowly at thesolstice
Did you know that the Sun actually sets moreslowlyaround the time of a solstice, in that it takes longer to set below the horizon?This is related to the angle of the setting Sun. The farther the Sun sets from due west along the horizon,the shallower the angleof the setting Sun.(Conversely, it’s faster at or near the equinoxes.) Bottom-line, enjoy those long romantic summertime sunsets at or near thesolstice!
→See sunrise and sunset times for your area.
Seasons on OtherPlanets
- Mercury has virtually no tilt (less than one-thirtiethof a degree) relative to the plane of its orbit, and therefore does not experience trueseasons.
- Uranus is tilted by almost 98 degrees and has seasons that last 21years.
→Seerise/set times for all the planets!
- Deep snow in winter, tall grain in summer. –Estonianproverb
- When the summer birds take their flight, goes the summer withthem.
- If it rains on Midsummer’s Eve, the filbert crops will be spoiled.–Unknown
- One swallow never made asummer.
- Easterly winds from May 19 to the 21 indicate a drysummer.
- If there are many falling stars during a clear summer evening, expect thunder. If there are none, expect fineweather.