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  • Rewa Bathula

Celebrating the Summer Solstice: The Longest Day of the Year

By Rewa Bathula

The summer solstice, occurring on June 20th, 2024 in the Northern Hemisphere, marks the longest day of the year and the official start of summer. This once in a year event happens when the Earth's axial tilt is most inclined towards the Sun, resulting in the Sun reaching its highest point in the sky at noon, which causes the longest period of daylight. 

The Science Behind the Solstice 

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words "sol" (sun) and "sistere" (to stand still). During the solstice, the Sun appears to pause in the sky before reversing direction. This happens because of the tilt of Earth's axis, which is approximately 23.5 degrees. This tilt is the primary reason for the changing seasons. Throughout the year, different parts of Earth receive varying amounts of sunlight, depending on the planet's position in its orbit. During the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the North Pole is tilted closest to the Sun, while the Southern Hemisphere experiences its winter solstice. At the summer solstice, the Sun reaches its highest and northernmost point in the sky, directly over the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5°N), causing us to experience a long period of daylight. The exact duration of daylight varies depending on the latitude. For instance, locations within the Arctic Circle experience 24 hours of continuous daylight, known as the Midnight Sun, while places closer to the equator have only slightly longer days compared to other times of the year.

Cultural Significance

Throughout history, many ancient civilizations have viewed the summer solstice as a time of celebration. Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and the Druids of Stonehenge designed monuments aligned with the solstice sunrise or sunset.

One notable structure that follows the sun’s yearly progress is the Stonehenge at England, which was utilized by the Neolithic to honor ancestors and mark important dates in the calendar, like the solstice. These structures highlight the solstice's importance in agriculture, timekeeping, and spirituality.

In modern times, the solstice remains a significant cultural event. Festivals, feasts, and gatherings are held worldwide, reflecting a diverse range of traditions. In Sweden, Midsummer is a national holiday marked by dancing around maypoles, singing, and enjoying nature's bounty. In the United Kingdom, thousands gather at Stonehenge to witness the sunrise, continuing an ancient tradition.

Summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge

Things to Remember

A solstice isn’t one whole day but rather a moment of time when the Sun is furthest north in the sky, which will occur at 1:51 p.m. P.D.T (Pacific Daylight Time). On this solstice, the sun will be directly overhead at noon as viewed from the Tropic of Cancer. Furthermore, in the Northern Hemisphere, we will experience early dawns, late sunsets, and the sun will be very high up in the sky. During noon local time, the sun will be so high that our noontime shadows’ will be the shortest noontime shadow of the year. 


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