The shortest day in 2023: explaining the winter solstice

The shortest day in 2023: explaining the winter solstice

An important global moment arrives at 10:27 PM EDT on Thursday, December 21, 2023 when the Sun rises over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere.

The winter solstice north of the equator and the summer solstice south of it mark the official start of the new season.

Confused? It shouldn’t be like that. It’s a simple story about what it’s like to live on a planet with a tilted axis, and a chance to think about how and why the Sun waxes and wanes throughout the year, the seasons change, and how celestial mechanics determines the way of life. On the ground.

Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s summer solstice, and why it’s important.

The coup explained

Astronomically, it is the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In the north it is the shortest day and longest night of the year while in the south it is the longest day and shortest night of the year.

This is all and only the story of how our planet rotates. The axis on which the Earth rotates is tilted by 23.5 degrees, so during our annual orbit around the Sun, different parts of the Earth receive sunlight for different periods of time. It was probably caused by an impact billions of years ago.

During this week’s solstice, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, so the sun hangs lowest in the sky. Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sun is positioned above the Tropic of Capricorn, an imaginary line located at 23.5 degrees south of the equator, giving the hemisphere its full glare and staying in the sky longer.

Pivotal moment

The solstice represents a pivotal moment in the Sun’s apparent movement. “On this day, the Sun’s path appears to stop and change direction, a phenomenon that gave rise to the term ‘solstice,’” Dr. Minjae Kim, a research fellow in the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick in the UK, said in an email. The word is derived from the word “solstice.” Latin “solstitium,” which means “the sun standing still.” “This apparent pause occurs when the sun reaches its southernmost point against the background of stars,” Kim said.

Days will now become longer in the Northern Hemisphere, reaching 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness on the March equinox (equal nights). At the equinox, the Earth’s axis is opposite the sun.

By the June solstice, the situation is reversed, with the Sun located above the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north of the equator. It creates summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

Effects of the coup

“The Earth’s axial tilt is the primary reason for these seasonal changes,” Kim said. “It not only affects temperature differences between seasons, but also causes the length of day and night to vary throughout the year.”

The sun rises and sets at different points on the horizon throughout the year. People who watch the sun set and rise instinctively know this, but most of us don’t. Inversions represent extreme points. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere at the winter solstice, the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest.

These are the farthest points where you can see the sunrise and sunset during an entire year. Wait six months for the summer solstice to occur in June, and from the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will rise in the northeast and set in the northwest. The midpoint is, you guessed it, the equinox that occurs in September and March. During the equinox, the sun rises and sets toward the east.

How to monitor a coup

Although it is an important mark in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, many people do not celebrate the solstice, especially in the winter, when it occurs so close to other festivals.

A good way to celebrate this event is, of course, to watch the sunrise or sunset on the solstice – something ancient monuments like Stonehenge seem to agree with – but there are other ways. The first is simply to go out after dark and do some stargazing, which this year will provide you with excellent views of very bright Jupiter in the southeastern night sky. As a bonus, it will be visible right after sunset.

Solstices and equinoxes in 2024

Here are the dates for the next equinoxes and solstices in 2024, as well as the days of cross-quarters — calendar way markers between these events — some of which may surprise you:

  • Quarterly Day: February 2 – Groundhog Day
  • March equinox 2024: March 19
  • Cross Day: May 1 – May Day
  • Solstice June 2024: June 20
  • Quarterly day: August 1 – Lamas
  • September 2024 equinox: September 22
  • Quarterly Day: October 31 – Halloween
  • December solstice 2024: December 21

I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.

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