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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice Happens Early This Afternoon

Ask any child when Summer begins, and he or she will undoubtedly respond with the date of the last day of school. Ask an adult and his or her answer is most likely either June 20 or June 21. In case you're wondering, the Summer Solstice happens today in the Northern Hemisphere at 12:38 p.m. EDT.

That’s when the Sun’s rays will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer, marking their northernmost point on the face of the Earth. The Sun rises at 5:19 a.m. and sets at 8:30 p.m., which is the latest Sunset during the year. We’ll enjoy 15 hours and 11 minutes of Sunlight on the first day of Summer.

Two days later, the Sun rises at 5:20, and the days begin to get “shorter” once again. Remember, since the first day of Summer is “the longest day” of the year, the days actually become shorter by the end of the month and the remainder of the Summer.

So, why does the Summer Solstice actually happen? Well, the seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis. Because the Earth rotates like a gyroscope, the North Pole points in a fixed position constantly, while the Earth is revolving around the Sun. During one half of the year, the Northern Hemisphere has more exposure to the Sun than the Southern Hemisphere, while the reverse is true during the other half of the year. At noontime, the Sun appears high in the sky during Summertime, and when the Sun reaches its maximum elevation, or angle, in the sky, that’s when the Summer Solstice happens.

Summer_smallSummer was a joyous time of the year in prehistoric times for the Aboriginal people who lived in the Northern latitudes. The snow had melted, the ground thawed out, and warm temperatures returned. Flowers were in full bloom, and leaves had returned to the trees. More important, food was easier to find, and crops had been planted and would be harvested for months to come. The Full Moon is June is called the Full Honey Moon. Tradition dictates that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.

This time of the year, between the planting and harvesting of crops, is the traditional time for weddings because many ancient peoples believed that the grand union of the goddess and god occurred in early May. Since it was unlucky to compete with the gods, many people delayed their weddings until June. Today, June remains a favorite month for marriage.

Native Americans have constructed many stone structures linked to the Equinoxes and Solstices. Many are still standing today. One of them is called Calendar One. It is a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl. “At the Summer Solstice, the Sun rose at the southern peak of the East ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the West ridge.” The Winter Solstice and both equinoxes were similarly marked.

I’d love to be at Calendar One today. The start of each of the four seasons carries more significance to this writer than New Year’s Day, which, in essence, is an arbitrary day on the calendar. Summer is here, and that is reason to celebrate in the Northern Hemisphere.

Paul