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Depending on where you live, today — Thursday, June 21 — is the first day of summer or winter. Also known as the June solstice, it is the day when the North Pole is most inclined towards the sun, allowing residents of the Northern Hemisphere to enjoy the longest day of the year. Conversely, those living in the Southern Hemisphere will experience the shortest day of 2018.
Though the celebrations extend throughout the day, the solstice technically occurs at a single point in time — when the sun is right over the Tropic of Cancer, or 23.5° north latitude. In 2018, this will be at 6:07 am Eastern (3.07 am Pacific time). If you sleep through it, don’t fret, for as long as you live north of the equator, you will be guaranteed at least 12 hours of daylight. North American residents wishing for an even longer day can travel north of Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun will last a full 24 hours! Across the pond in the UK, citizens will enjoy 18 hours of light, while those living in Stockholm, Sweden will experience a 21-hour day.
Interestingly, the longest day of the year does not coincide with the earliest sunrise or latest sunset of the year. Those occur a week before and a week after the solstice, respectively. The mismatch is due to our planet’s elliptical orbit which causes it to travel at different speeds – fastest when it’s closest to the Sun and slowest when farthest away, as is the case currently. Earth’s speed around its axis, on the other hand, remains constant throughout the year. The difference in orbital motion and rotation determines the exact sunrise and sunset times.
Summer solstice is observed with numerous fun events worldwide. One of the oldest and most revered celebrations takes place at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Every year, thousands of people visit the prehistoric monument at dawn to pay homage to the rising sun. In Sweden, residents bestow their loved ones with flower wreaths and crowns which are believed to bring good health. Many also mark the occasion with traditional dances around a maypole, or midsummer pole, decorated with greenery and flowers.
In Poznan, Poland, residents release colorful candle-lit paper lanterns inscribed with messages from their creators, while in New York, locals practice their “Downward-Facing Dog” poses at the free “Mind Over Madness Yoga” celebration held in the city’s bustling Times Square. The people of Reykjavik, Iceland will enjoy the 21-hour day by listening to one of the 100 bands performing on several stages at the Secret Solstice Festival. For the 113th consecutive year, Fairbanks, Alaska will host the Midnight Sun Game, an amateur baseball match which starts at 10:30 pm, two hours before the official sundown. Does your town or city have a fun summer solstice ritual? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.
Resources: vox.com, earthsky, org, almanac.com, wikipedia.org