The summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and here are 15 interesting facts about it.
1. This year, the summer solstice falls on June 21
The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and 22, but since the calendar does not exactly reflect the Earth’s rotation, the exact time shifts slightly each year. In 2022, the Sun reached its highest altitude in the Northern Hemisphere sky on June 21 at 12:13 p.m. Moscow time.
2. The Sun will be directly overhead only at the Tropic of Cancer
Although June 21 will be the longest day of the year in the entire Northern Hemisphere, the Sun will be directly overhead only at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude). The Northern Tropic (the Tropic of Cancer) is the northernmost latitude at which the Sun can be in the zenith at noon; one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of Earth. This occurs on the summer solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent. Since the tilt changes every year, the tropic’s location also changes. The southern counterpart to the Tropic of Cancer is called the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Cancer got its name about 2,000 years ago, when the Sun was in the constellation Cancer. However, the Sun is now in the constellation Gemini at this time of year.
3. The name of the day is associated with the apparent immobility of the Sun
The term solstice comes from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still), since the Sun’s relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and the next few days.
4. The world’s largest bonfire was lit in honor of the summer solstice
For hundreds of years, various holidays have been celebrated around the world on this day. Among these is Midsummer, which is celebrated on the first Saturday after June 19 in the Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the residents of Norway’s Ålesund set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 47-meter celebratory blaze.
5. Hot weather sets in for a few weeks after this day
You may wonder why this is the case if the solstice is the longest day of the year and thus receives the most sunlight. However, the temperature usually does not reach its annual peak by this time. It is because water, which makes up most of the Earth’s surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes some time to warm up and cool down.
6. Thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice
People have long believed that Stonehenge was a place of ancient druid solstice celebrations. Although there is no proven link between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather there to watch the sunrise.
7. Pagans celebrate this day with symbols of fire and water
In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels of fire into water reservoirs, symbolizing the balance between the elements of fire and water.
8. In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice heralded the New Year
In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which, according to the Egyptians, was the cause of the annual flooding of the Nile (it was an important period for agriculture). The Egyptian calendar was set so that the beginning of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.
9. In Ancient China, Yin was honored
The ancient Chinese believed that during the year, the powers of Yin and Yang increased and decreased in inverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of Yang was in full swing, but the celebration focused on the upcoming transition to Yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.
10. A midnight baseball game is held in Alaska
Every year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the world’s northernmost baseball team with a game that starts at 10 p.m. and stretches into the morning — without artificial lighting. It is called the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in Alaska in 1906 and was adopted by the team in 1960, the first year of its existence.
11. The Earth is farthest from the Sun during the solstice
You might think that since the solstice occurs in summer, it means that the Earth is closest to the Sun. However, the Earth is actually closest to the Sun when it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer heat comes from the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and not from how close the planet is to the Sun at any given time.
12. Ironically, this day marks a ‘dark time’ in the history of science
Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Even after doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
13. In an alternative calendar, there was an additional month named after this day
In 1902, a British railway employee named Moses B. Cotsworth tried to create a new calendar system that had 13 months. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol.
14. In ancient Greece, this day was also a celebration of social equality
The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual celebrations in that slaves and free citizens participated in the festivities as equals.
15. In Ancient Rome, the goddess Vesta was honored
In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia that honored Vesta, the Roman goddess of the home. The cult of the Vestal Virgins (priestesses of the goddess) was highly respected among the Romans. Unlike most other women, they were allowed to handle their own property, make a will, testify in court, and they had the right of way. Anyone who insulted a priestess of Vesta faced the death penalty. If a person who was sentenced to death saw a Vestal on his way to the execution, he was automatically pardoned.