Today is the 2016 summer solstice. It marks the official start of summer, even though temperatures have made it feel like summer for some time now.
The term solstice comes from the Latin words “sol,” meaning sun, and “sistere,” meaning to come to a stop or stand still. During the summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. Instead of continuing in a forward motion as it does every other day, the sun appears to stand still before reversing directions and moving to the south again.
Because the solstice occurs at the moment the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, it happens at the same time for everyone in the world. However, since we have time zones, this could be today or tomorrow, depending on where you are located. Time and Date has a calculator for everyone to find out the exact moment of the summer solstice in their particular location.
This day comes and goes each year, but before it goes away again, here are 5 cool summer solstice facts to consider on the longest day of the year.
1) It’s the first summer solstice full moon in 49 years
- Vanity Fair
According to EarthSky, this is the first summer solstice full moon in the Northern Hemisphere since 1967. That summer was considered the “Summer of Love” in cities around the world. Vanity Fair dubbed that summer “a blast of glamour, ecstacy, and Utopianism that turned America on to a whole new age.”
Maybe this solstice full moon will send new waves crashing through society again.
2) It’s the fourth of four full moons since the March equinox
There is something else special about tonight’s full moon. There are typically only 3 full moons between the equinox and the solstice, but this time there are four. The last full moon, or the famous blue moon, fell on May 21 this year. It has been 6 years since a full moon fell on a solstice (the December 2010 solstice). This phenomenon won’t occur again until 2062.
3) There are huge celebrations and superstitions
Much of Europe celebrates the summer solstice between June 21 and 25. In Finland and Germany, people often burn giant bonfires by the water. Celebrators dance around the fire because traditionally, jumping over flames is said to purify the person and increase their chances of getting married that year. The summer solstice was once believed to be a time to do magic and perform future-changing rituals.
4) It’s not the same every year or everywhere
- NASA NASA/Reuters
The astronomical year is only 365.25 days long, while the human calendar year is 365 days long. Because of this, the exact date of the summer solstice can change. It can occur any time between June 20 and June 22.
The summer solstice is also very different between hemispheres. When the northern hemisphere is experiencing the longest day of the year, the southern hemisphere is experiencing the exact opposite.
5) The sun is actually farthest from the earth
- Thomson Reuters
It’s a common myth that the sun is closest to the earth on the summer solstice because of hot temperatures and because there are more hours of daylight. However, it turns out that the exact opposite is true. The earth is furthest from the sun at this point in the year. This causes lower tides due to the decrease in gravitational pull. Sequim Gazette has recorded extremely low tides because of the angle of the sun.