Sun-themed facts about the solstice
Published on 21st June 2021
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The term solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the Sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis, roughly 23.5 degrees, causes the Sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.
Cultures around the world have held celebrations in conjunction with the solstice for hundreds of years. Among these is Midsummer, which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavia and other northern European countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory blaze (their record was broken in 2019 by Austrian Carnival festivities).
People have long believed Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the Sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and the megalithic monument, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.
Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
On the summer solstice, the Sun’s path across the sky is curved and not a straight line. It appears to rise and keeps veering to the right as it passes high overhead. This is quite different from the laser-straight path the Sun moves along in late March and late September, near the equinoxes.
At the solstice, the midday Sun is highest up in the sky (or, lowest if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). But did you know that the Sun’s highest point is getting lower and lower over time? That’s because Earth’s tilt is slowly decreasing.