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Late last week, when I glanced at my calendar and noticed that the summer solstice is approaching (I live in the US; northern hemisphere), my curiosity got the better of me. I realized that I knew enough about the solstices to be dangerous, so I wanted to delve deeper. Join me as I share some of the key things I learned.
There are two moments in the year known as solstices – summer and winter. The summer solstice occurs when the hemisphere leans towards the sun and is in a more direct path of sun’s energy. Conversely, the winter solstice is a time when the hemisphere leans away from the sun, receiving less direct sunlight. But why does this happen? It’s all due to the way the Earth orbits the sun. It doesn’t orbit straight up and down. The Earth’s axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees, which is why we have seasons throughout the year as we orbit the sun. The story behind why it’s tilted is for another day.
In June, the North Pole tilts more towards the sun, signaling the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice for the southern hemisphere. On June 21, 2023, the northern hemisphere will have the longest daylight hours, while the southern hemisphere will have its shortest day. How noticeable this is to you depends on your location and proximity to the equator.
The word “solstice” originates from the combination of two Latin words: “sol” meaning “Sun” and “sistere” meaning “To Stand Still.” Why the reference to standing still? According to Merriam-Webster, “around the time of the solstices, the sun’s position on the horizon during sunrise and sunset appears to remain constant for several days before it resumes its gradual drift northward or southward”.
To better understand all of this, take a look at this image from NASA.gov. It illustrates what I’ve shared above – the tilt of the Earth and how the sun’s energy impacts one hemisphere more directly than the other.
Throughout history, cultures around the world have celebrated the solstices. The summer solstice often symbolizes abundance, with warm temperatures and bountiful crops. On the other hand, the winter solstice has been a time of light, prayer, and hope as people prepare to endure the scarcity of food, colder temperatures, and longer nights.
So, let me pose a question to you – what does the upcoming solstice mean to you? Is it just another day on the calendar, or do you see it as a celebration? Perhaps it’s an opportunity to reflect on the role the sun plays in our lives and the intricate relationship between the sun and the Earth.
For me, the approaching summer solstice sparks contemplation about the interconnection between nature and humanity. We are not separate entities but deeply intertwined. Our survival, whether we are part of nature or human society, hinges on this relationship. When you get right down to it, all life on Earth depends on the sun’s presence.
Here are a few tidbits about our Sun and our relationship with it:
- Sunlight is vital for the growth and vitality of plants, which serve as the source of our food and oxygen. The energy from the sun fuels the process of photosynthesis in plants.
- Exposing ourselves to early morning sunlight can help reset our circadian clock. Viewing sunlight within the first few hours of waking stimulates the release of cortisol, positively influencing our immune system, metabolism, and ability to focus throughout the day.
- The sun’s gravitational force ensures that the Earth remains in orbit, neither too close nor too far away. And yeah, that’s something that we couldn’t survive without.
- Apart from providing us with light and warmth, the sun is also responsible for the beautiful auroras. These fabulous displays of light and color occur when solar energy interacts with gases at the outer edge of our atmosphere.
Now it’s your turn. I’ve shared my thoughts on the upcoming solstice, but I’m eager to hear yours. What does the solstice mean to you? How do you choose to celebrate it?
1. Franklin Institute. “What Is a Solstice and What Is an Equinox, and Why Should I Care?” Franklin Institute, 12 Mar. 2019, https://www.fi.edu/en/blog/what-solstice-and-what-equinox-and-why-should-i-care.
2. NASA. “Summer Solstice.” NASA Blogs, 17 June 2023, https://blogs.nasa.gov/blog/tag/summer-solstice/.
3. National Geographic Education. “Solstice.” National Geographic Education, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/solstice/.
4. NASA Space Place. “Seasons and the Sun.” NASA Space Place, https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/seasons/en/.
5. National Weather Service. “Seasons.” National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/fsd/season.
6. Fahrenthold, David A. “Summer Is Almost Here. And You Can Thank This Billion-Year-Old Rock.” The Washington Post, 20 June 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/06/20/summer-is-about-here-that-you-can-thank-billion-year-old-rock/.
7. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Chapter 3: The Sun, the Earth, and Near-Earth Space: A Guide to the Sun-Earth System.” NASA History Program Office, https://history.nasa.gov/EP-177/ch3-1.html.
8. National Geographic Education. “Photosynthesis.” National Geographic Education, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/photosynthesis/#.
9. Huberman Lab. “Using Light for Health.” Huberman Lab, https://hubermanlab.com/using-light-for-health/.
10. NASA Space Place. “What Is Gravity?” NASA Space Place, https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/what-is-gravity/en/#:~:text=The%20sun’s%20gravity%20keeps%20Earth,air%20we%20need%20to%20breathe.
11. “Solstice.” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/solstice.