Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice arrives, and here’s what it means


Brrr! Winter Solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year and the start of winter, arrives late today.


Visitors are expected to visit the ancient monument of Stonehenge in England on the Winter Solstice, which will be marked this year on Dec. 21 and 22 depending on where you are in the world.

By: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Dec 21 2015

The temperature outside might suggest otherwise, but winter arrives officially later today with the Winter Solstice.

The solstice will be marked at 11:48 p.m. Monday local time.

Don’t know what the Winter Solstice is? Here are some facts:

What is the Winter Solstice?

“For those in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its lowest point in the sky at noon,” explained Paul Mortfield of The David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill.

What does this mean in practice?

On the Winter Solstice, the sun rises late and the sunset comes earlier in the northern hemisphere.

“If you’re to put up a pole or go see a flagpole, with the sun being at its lowest point in the sky at noon, you’ll get the longest shadow of the year,” Mortfield told the Star.

The days will get longer from now until the Summer Solstice, on or around June 21.

“The coolest thing about it is that here on out, technically the number of sunlight hours gets longer, although we really won’t notice,” Mortfield said.

Locations south of the equator will have more than 12 hours of sunlight on this day, while places north of the equator will have days of less than 12 hours on this day, science website Earth Sky reports.

Does the Winter Solstice happen at the same time every year?

Not necessarily, although it does usually take place on or around Dec. 21.

People across the world experience the solstice at the same time, but the planet’s different time zones mean that this shared moment takes place over a 24-hour period depending on where you are.

This year, people in Asia, Australia and parts of Europe will experience the solstice on Tues., Dec. 22, while people in North America will mark the solstice on Dec. 21.

“For some people, it’ll be Tuesday. For some people, it’ll still be today,” Mortfield said. “It depends where you are.”

How does this compare to the Summer Solstice?

The Summer Solstice is the opposite; the sun is at its highest point in the sky at noon for people in the northern hemisphere, which gives us the longest day of the year.

One thing to remember is the solstices are reversed for people in the southern hemisphere; there, the Winter Solstice is the longest day of the year, while the Summer Solstice is the shortest.

What did the Winter Solstice mean to the ancients?

Ancient civilizations built monuments and other tools to track the sun’s movement and marked the winter and summer solstices with various celebrations.

Stongehenge in the U.K., for instance, is aligned to point to the Winter Solstice sunset and people gather there annually to celebrate the day.

“It is thought that the Winter Solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer Solstice,” Stonehenge Tours explains.

The Temple of Karnak in Egypt was built to align with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice.

A beam of sunlight enters the opening to Newgrange stone tomb in Ireland on the solstice.


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