In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice will be here soon! In California it falls at 2:43 PM on Saturday, June 20.
On the Summer Solstice the sun is at its highest point in the sky. When the sun is higher in the sky, it takes longer for the sun to rise and set, making the Summer Solstice the longest day of the year.
Learn more about the dynamics of the Summer solstice on the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
NBC’s article gives a more detailed scientific explanation:
“Earth’s rotational axis — the imaginary line through our planet’s center and the geographic north and south poles — isn’t exactly at a right angle to the planet’s orbital path around the sun. […]
As Earth orbits the sun over the course of each year, its axis always points at the same direction in space. That means the Northern Hemisphere is angled toward the sun for half the year and angled away from the sun for the other half.
The moment when the North Pole is nearest to the sun is called the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Observing the Solstice
One ancient monument associated with the solstice is Stonehenge, which ancient people began building around 2500 BCE. While its true purpose isn’t known, Stonehenge has astronomical connections to both the Winter and Summer Solstices. During the Summer solstice the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge. During the Winter Solstice, the sunset is framed in the south-west part of the horizon.
Some scholars believe that Stonehenge was created to mark the passage of time. The monument is aligned to the movements of the Sun; the length of the days and the passage of the seasons can be measured at Stonehenge.
Thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to watch the Summer Solstice. This year, because of the coronavirus, Solstice at Stonehenge will be livestreamed for the first time. The English Heritage Organization is planning a live event that will begin at sunset the day before Solstice.
You can participate through Facebook (does not require a Facebook account). Note that the times listed are for the United Kingdom. Sunrise will be at 4:52 am at Stonehenge on Sunday, June 21. In California that translates to 8:52 pm on Saturday, June 20.
- Keep up to date with the Solstice events by following the English Heritage Organization on Twitter or Facebook. (You may want to start watching before the actual Solstice occurs, or before 8:52 pm on Saturday June 20)
- View Stonehenge via Skyscape any time of the year
- Learn more information about the monument.
Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark
Located in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, the Medicine Wheel at Medicine Mountain was built sometime between 1200 and 1700 CE by indigenous peoples of the Great Plains, and marks astronomical phenomena related to the summer solstice. It continues to be a site of religious significance for the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Lakota, Dakota, Shoshone, Cree, Salish, Kootenai, and Blackfeet nations.
The Medicine Wheel is 80 feet in diameter, and consists of a central cairn connected to an outside wheel by 28 stone spokes. Two points marked by different cairn alignments indicate sunrise and sunset on the day of the solstice. The cairns also mark the “heliacal rising” of four stars which are particularly noticeable in the solstice sky: Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Formalhaut.
Stanford’s Solar Center explains how these markers have been used:
“Dawn or heliacal rising of a star […] is the day a star is first seen after it has been behind the Sun for an entire season. From about 1200 AD to 1700 AD, these 4 stars would have acted as solstice markers for the Native Americans – Fomalhaut […] would rise 28 days before the Summer Solstice, Aldebaran […] would rise during the 2 days just before the solstice, Rigel […] would rise 28 days after the solstice, and Sirius […] 28 days after that, at the end of August and hence marking the end of summer and time to leave the mountain.”
- Learn more about the significance of the Medicine Wheel at Medicine Mountain, including the process of creating a Historic Preservation Plan that maintains access to this sacred site for Native groups.
- Visit Atlas Obscura for more photos of this monument.
(Virtual) Solstice Celebrations
UK newspaper The Guardian also offers a variety of ways to celebrate the Solstice virtually:
- Open-air theater performances in England
- Music in France with Fête de la Musique
- Scandinavian-style celebrations
- 24 hours of chill beats with The Chill Out Tent
- … and, of course, some Yoga With Adrienne
Writing and research: Linda and Ana