Today marks the first day we can officially say, it’s summer! But before we head out to lay by the pool or swim in the ocean, we asked one of our Tutor.com Mentors, Jeremy B., to explain exactly what the summer solstice is and why that kicks off the first day of summer. Learn all about it below!
For many students around the country, school is out and the summer has begun – or has it? Despite the fact that school bells may no longer be ringing and tests are no longer being taken, summer doesn’t officially start until June 20, 2012. That’s when the summer solstice takes place, giving those of us in the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year and more time for fun stuff like swimming.
What exactly does “solstice” mean and why do we have it? To get the basic meaning, we break the word down into its Latin roots – sol meaning sun and stitium meaning to stand still. You might be thinking, “So this means that the sun is actually going to stop on June 20th?” Of course, the answer to that is, “No, the Sun will still rise and set just as it usually does.” The Sun will just climb higher and higher until it reaches its highest point in the sky on this date and appear as if it is standing still.
All of this goes back to the seasons and their cause – the tilt of the Earth’s axis combined with the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. Instead of being straight up and down like a spinning top, the Earth’s axis is tilted at about a 23.5 degree angle. When the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, we’re getting more sunlight than the southern hemisphere, leading to long summer days. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the northern hemisphere begins to point away from the Sun. When the northern hemisphere is tilted completely away from the Sun, we reach winter.
Now, let’s say that on June 20th you get on a plane and fly down to the Southern Hemisphere. Even though it was warm when you left, hopefully you packed some warm clothes because it’s going to be colder down there. The seasons are opposite in the two hemispheres, again, because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
To celebrate the summer solstice, the place to be is Stonehenge in England. Each year, thousands of people meet there in anticipation of the solstice sunrise. This goes back to ancient druid and pagan celebrations. They view Stonehenge as a sacred place, with the Heelstone being aligned with the sunrise on the summer solstice. Bon fires are lit the night before and people stay up all night, singing and dancing, waiting for daybreak. Of course, if swimming is more your thing, then you’ll have plenty of time for it thanks to the summer solstice!