The clock seems ticking, but the day is not yet over. The twilight seems late; why isn’t the day over yet? It is so bright outside the window so late in the evening. As you wander with these thoughts, here we are to light up the bulbs of brains.
The above thoughts would resonate through your brain if you lived in the northern hemisphere on June 21st or the southern hemisphere on December 21st. The thoughts are the result of the cosmic event called solstice. Cosmical events have always astonished us. As we approach the day of the solstice, let us embark on the journey to dive deeper into the subjects of the Earth’s tilt and rotation.
Thank the tilt for the monsoon rains and the beautiful spring. The tilt of the Earth’s axis is indirectly responsible for season-dependent agriculture.
Solstice and its Significance
The tilt of the axis not just presents us with the seasons and the food through agriculture but also feeds beauty to the eyes through cosmic events such as solstice.
The word solstice comes from the Latin ‘solstitium’ meaning “the sun stands still”. This is because the sun’s path from north or south appears to stop before reversing direction. The sun’s position in the sky keeps changing throughout the year. The path traces the analemma shape, similar to the number 8, but unevenly sized loops.
During the solstice, the path’s direction reverses and appears to stand still for ten days around the solstice.
So this means in the June solstice
The Earth’s north pole tilts towards the sun, causing the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day in the southern hemisphere. During the December solstice, the longest and shortest day would be reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Right now, as the people in the northern hemisphere are experiencing the longest day and summer solstice, the people in the southern hemisphere are experiencing the shortest day and winter solstice.
The hemisphere that observes the longest day would call it the summer solstice, and the other hemisphere would call it the winter solstice, respectively.
The tilt of the Earth’s axis also lets us experience the equinoxes. There are two equinoxes, one in March and the other in September. The equinoxes happen when the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays, giving us equal lengths of day and night.
Earth at its farthest point from the sun
The Earth orbits around the sun in elliptical paths. Hence the distance from the sun to Earth isn’t constant.
At the solstice of June, though the northern hemisphere is more tilted towards the sun, the Earth is approaching the farthest position from the sun, called the aphelion. And it is during the solstice of December that Earth would be approaching the nearest position from the sun called the perihelion.
The days of aphelion and perihelion are not as fixed as the solstice days. The days have been drifting; in 1246, the December solstice and perihelion were on the same day. Now they are almost 15 days later. In another 4000 years, they would approach the aphelion and perihelion around the equinoxes of March and September.
Solstice-based monuments and installations
Solstice is one of the most awaited cosmological events. Along with the astronomers awaiting it, the sculptures, artists, and poets all await the beautiful event and blend it into their creations. Here are a few of the most beautiful monuments and installations that capture the beauty of the solstice.
Also, the solstice has cultural significance, and many celebrations are around this event.
Pyramid of Chichen Itza, Mexico:
The pyramid in Mexico, built around 800 – 900 CE, aligns well with the summer solstice. The beauty here is not just watching the sunrise or sunset aligned but a serpent of shadows crawling down the side.
On the longest day of the year, over five hours, a combination of light and shadows creates seven triangles on the side of the staircase. And for 45 minutes, it appears like a serpent is crawling down the side of the temple. The dance of light and shadow is beautifully captivated on the solstices.
It is a prehistoric structure in Wiltshire, England. The view at Stonehenge is mesmerizing on the days of the solstice as the stones are perfectly aligned to match the rising sun. Facing the northeast in the early morning of the summer solstice, one can get a perfect view of the sun, and the Stonehenge arranged. And in the evening of the winter solstice, facing the southwest would give us a similar mesmerizing view as the sun sets.
Researchers have yet to discover the history or reason behind the structure’s construction.
Sun Tunnels (1973–1976) is a large-scale installation in Utah’s Great Basin Desert:
The sun tunnels are the large concrete cylinders arranged in a pattern that aligns to watch the summer and winter solstices. And also, each of the cylinders is pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn.
In the vast desert, it aligns with the solstices and creates mesmerizing views through the cylinders.
Wrapping up the Journey
Though monuments, sculptures, and installations around the solstice theme are many, this was a short journey about the solstice through the monuments. Before you dive into the mesmerizing views of the 2023 solstice, we wish you a happy summer solstice!