Interesting Facts About Winter Solstice: The Longest Night

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Contrary to popular belief, the winter solstice is not a day. It’s the specific moment in time when the sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn, a circle of latitude below the equator. This is the southern-most point the sun ever reaches from our perspective on Earth. Winter solstice occurs when the earth’s semi-axis tilts farthest from the sun. This occurs twice with the planet earth each year. The winter solstice is also referred to as Midwinter, the Longest Night, and Yule.
When the northern hemisphere is tilted farthest from the sun, which occurs on approximately December 20th to 22nd each year, the northern hemisphere’s winter begins. When the southern hemisphere is tilted farthest from the sun, which occurs on approximately June 20th to June 22nd each year, the southern hemisphere’s winter begins. The maximum axial tilt of the earth is reached when the northern or southern winter solstices occur. When one hemisphere experiences summer solstice, the other hemisphere experiences winter solstice.
We are now going to look at some interesting, little-known facts about Winter Solstice. Hope you enjoy!
1. Some thought the world would end on the 2012 winter solstice. December 21, 2012 corresponds to the date 13.0.0.0.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Mayans, marking the end of a 5126-year cycle. Some people feared this juncture would bring about the end of the world or some other cataclysmic event. Others took a more New Age-y view (literally) and believed it heralded the birth of a new era of deep transformation for Earth and its inhabitants. In the end, neither of these things appeared to occur, leaving the world to turn through winter solstices indefinitely, or at least as long as the Sun lasts.
2. Its name is Latin. The word “solstice” is derived from two Latin words: “sol,” which means “sun,” and “sistere,” which means “to stand still.” On the winter solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position (directly above the Tropic of Capricorn) and appears to stand still. Fitting, right?
3. When winter solstice occurs in the southern hemisphere it experiences its longest night and shortest day of the year. The opposite is true when the summer solstice occurs, and the southern hemisphere experiences its longest day and night. When winter solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere it experiences its shortest day and longest night of the year. The opposite is true when the summer solstice occurs, and the northern hemisphere experiences its longest day and shortest night.
4. For days before and after the winter solstice occurs, the sun appears to stand still in the sky at its noon-time elevation.
5. Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England is a popular spot during winter and summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. Newgrange in Ireland is another monument dating back thousands of years that appears to have been built in alignment with the solstice.
6. The actual moment that the solstice occurs cannot be observed by amateurs because the sun moves so slowly that astronomical data tracking must be used to pinpoint the actual moment of the solstice.
7. Although winter solstice marks the beginning of the astrological winter, the coldest winter days are yet to come, often not for a month or even two in some years.
8. During the solstice, whether it is summer or winter solstice, the sun isn’t moving – it’s actually the earth tilting to and away from the sun.
9. Some confuse the solstice with the equinox. Both occur twice a year, but the equinox occurs when the sun is directly above the equator, day and night are equal in length, and the equinox marks the beginnings of fall and spring, depending on the hemisphere.
10. During the winter solstice the sun appears to be at its lowest point in the sky.

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