Ahhh, summer. There’s nothing quite like it. From swimming to road-tripping to eating dinner outdoors, summer’s the time of year we all look forward to. And it only seems fitting that the longest day of the year also happens to be during summer.
So as you prepare to enjoy the extra sunshine today, check out 5 things you might not know about the solstice.
1. Summer solstice has symmetry
Our summer solstice is, of course, the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. So while we in the Northern Hemisphere (the half of the Earth that live north of the equator) celebrate the longest day of the year, those in the Southern Hemisphere (you know who you are) celebrate the shortest day of the year.
Summer solstice happens because of Earth’s 23.5 degrees tilt. As Earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun, different parts of Earth are exposed to the sun, giving us 4 beautiful seasons. And without that tilt, we wouldn’t have any seasons.
To see how long the longest day of the year will be where you live, check out this map.
2. Summer solstice has an official kick-off time
Summer solstice will arrive on June 20 at 22:34 (which is 10:34 p.m.), according to UTC time (Coordinated Universal Time), a 24-hour world standard based on Earth’s rotation.
So for those of us in the U.S., that means summer solstice 2016 will occur at:
6:34 p.m. EDT
3:34 p.m. PDT
5:34 p.m. CDT
Convert UTC to your local time by using EarthSky.org’s online table.
3. Earth is further from the sun
Summer solstice means Earth, on its elliptical path, is further away from the sun, not closer. In fact, the Earth is furthest from the sun (about 94.5 million miles) about 2 weeks after the June solstice.
Then, in the winter, Earth is closest to the sun (about 91 million miles) about 2 weeks after the December solstice. (There’s that symmetry again.)
4. The sun looks incredible during the summer solstice
Ever wondered what the solstice looks like from space? So did we. And thankfully, NASA photographed it. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft (SOHO for short) used an extreme ultraviolet imaging telescope to make a composite image of the sun as it reached its northernmost point in Earth’s sky. The result is pretty amazing and was featured in National Geographic magazine.
5. Celebratory parades date back to 1498
Though summer solstice has been famously celebrated for hundreds of years at monuments such as Stonehenge, a lesser-known celebration in England’s historic city of Chester dates back to 1498. Founded by the Romans, Chester re-enacts its medieval history by ushering in summer solstice with a costumed street parade. A family of towering wooden and wicker Medieval effigies and mythical creature puppets star in today’s Chester’s Midsummer Watch Parade.
About 500 people participate in the parade. Folks from all over the world come to watch. See photos from past celebrations here.