The summer solstice, otherwise known as the longest day of the year, falls today, June 21 – marking the return of brighter evenings for us all.
Whether you plan to make the most of your annual leave or simply want to put a few more evening plans in the diary, there’ is plenty to do to make the most of the long summer days.
Also known as midsummer or the estival solstice, it is the day with the longest period of sunlight – boding well for anyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or is wanting to soak up some extra vitamin D.
Read on below to find out everything you need to know about summer, the solstice, traditions and the significance of Stonehenge.
What is the summer solstice and when is it?
In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice takes place between June 20 and 22 each year.
This year it falls on Tuesday, June 21 – when the UK will enjoy 16 hours and 43 minutes of daylight. The sun will rise at 4.43am and set at 9.22pm.
The solstice officially marks the beginning of the astronomical summer, which ends when the autumn equinox falls on September 22.
Day and night will be at almost equal length on this date, as the sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward into the northern hemisphere.
What happens during the summer solstice?
There are two solstices each year – one in the winter and one in the summer. The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s axis is most inclined towards the sun and is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.
Traditionally, the summer solstice period fell between the planting and harvesting of crops, leaving people who worked the land time to relax. This is why June became the traditional month for weddings.
It might seem like a day to celebrate, but it actually signals the moment the sun’s path stops moving northward in the sky, and the start of days becoming steadily shorter as the slow march towards winter begins.
However, we won’t notice the days becoming shorter for a while. The shortest day of the year is not until Monday, December 21, which is known as the winter solstice.
At the winter solstice, the Earth’s axis is tilted furthest away from the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, bringing only a few hours of daylight.
In the southern hemisphere the dates of the two solstices are reversed. The winter solstice occurs on the same day in June and the summer solstice the same day in December.
The term “solstice” derives from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning “sun standing still”. Some prefer the more teutonic term “sunturn” to describe the event.
Astrologers say the sun seems to “stand still” at the point on the horizon where it appears to rise and set, before moving off in the reverse direction.