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June Solstice: first day of Summer

4 min read

In 2021, the June solstice occurs on Sunday, June 20, marking the start of summer.
At least, in the Northern Hemisphere.
But the solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth.
Only our clocks are different.

But really is the summer solstice the first day of summer?
Yes and no.
Basically, it depends on whether we’re speaking about the meteorological or astronomical start of the season. Most meteorologists divide the year into four seasons based on the months and the temperature cycle, which allows them to compare and organize climate data more easily.
According to this system, summer begins on June 1 and ends on August 31. Therefore, the summer solstice is not considered to be the first day of summer, at least meteorologically speaking.
Astronomically, however, the first day of summer is said to be when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, which occurs on the summer solstice. In this case yes, the summer solstice is considered to be the first day of summer, but astronomically speaking.

Know also as summer solstice, occurs when the Sun travels along its northernmost path in the sky, thus occurring when Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt (about 23.5 degrees) toward the Sun, resulting in the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year.
In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite: the June solstice marks the astronomical start of winter, when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky.
On this day, the Sun’s path across the sky is curved—not a straight line. It appears to rise and keeps veering to the right as it passes high overhead, in a motion quite different from the laser-straight path the Sun moves along in late March and late September, near the equinoxes.
In fact, the solstice Sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer, the northernmost line connecting all places on Earth where the Sun is ever straight overhead.

The word “solstice” comes from Latin solstitium, from sol “Sun” and stitium “Standing”.
On the summer solstice, the Sun’s path stops advancing northward each day and appears to “stand” still in the sky before going back the other way.
Due to Earth’s tilted axis, the Sun doesn’t rise and set at the same locations on the horizon each morning and evening, as its rise and set positions move northward or southward in the sky as Earth travels around the Sun through the year.
Moreover, the Sun’s track in the sky becomes higher or lower throughout the year.
The June solstice is significant because the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky, at which point the Sun’s path does not change for a brief period of time.
After the solstice, the Sun appears to reverse course and head back in the opposite direction.
Over the year, its path forms a sort of flattened figure eight, called an analemma.
Of course, the Sun itself is not moving unless you consider its own orbit around the Milky Way galaxy. Actually this change in position in the sky that we on Earth notice is caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis as it orbits the Sun, as well as Earth’s elliptical, rather than circular, orbit.

Interestingly, the timing of the June solstice is not based on a specific calendar date or time, as it all depends on when the Sun reaches its northernmost point from the celestial equator.
Moreover yes, It may be the “longest day,” but it’s not the latest sunset. Nor the earliest sunrise. The earliest sunrises happen before the summer solstice and the latest sunset after the summer solstice.

There are many people, including the Swedes, who celebrate the beginning of summer by eating the first strawberries of the season. Indulging in some strawberries (strictly with cream) is the perfect way to celebrate the June solstice, and, not by chance, June’s full Moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon (but this is anoter story).
It typically coincided with the ripening of strawberries in what is now the northeastern and midwestern United States. In fact, in many states, this is the perfect time to go strawberry picking.
Many northern people also celebrate a solstice holiday known as Midsummer’s Day on June 24, which is one of the four ancient quarter days of the year….but this is another story!

Images from web – Google Research