The Winter Solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Monday 21st December was the shortest day of the year (aka the winter solstice). This means there are less hours of daylight, and more hours of night than any other day in the year. But why do the lengths of days change throughout the year?

The Earth is a sphere and spins on its axis once a day. During daytime, where we are on Earth is facing the sun, while during night we are hidden from the sun and therefore without its light and heat. Imagine an apple on a barbeque skewer. Picture the apple rotating around the skewer – this is what the earth does. Sometimes it’s facing the fiery light (whether it’s a barbecue or a sun) and sometimes it’ll be cold.

The seasons occur because the Earth’s axis is tilted by 23 degrees. This means that, as it travels around the sun, either the northern or southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. When the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, our relative closeness to it means we get more exposure to daylight. More daylight means longer days.

During the summer, there is daylight for twenty-four hours in the Arctic, which they call Land of the Midnight Sun. Their winters are very dark, however, and people can go for weeks without seeing sunlight.

Many traditions surround the summer solstice. Stonehenge was a place of worship built by Druids thousands of years ago. The stones are aligned to the solstice. People still gather there to see the sunrise. Below is an image from this morning – unfortunately, there was too much cloud cover to see the sun.

The Winter Solstice at Stonehenge, England

Exactly six months after the shortest day is the longest day (June 21st) where our nights are shortest. In Australia, it’s the reverse. This Monday we were closing the curtains earlier than any other day, while in Australia they are enjoying the summer and warm weather. A night thought on these cold days!

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