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Summer

The Summer Solstice

The summer solstice heralds the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The timing of the summer solstice depends on when the Sun reaches its northernmost point of the equator.

In 2016, summer begins with the solstice on June 20 at 6:34 p.m. EDT.

The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time (and again at the winter solstice).

In temperate regions, we notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day, and its rays strike Earth at a more direct angle, causing the efficient warming we call summer.

This summer solstice is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. See our handy Sunrise and sunset calculator for how many hours of sunlight you get in your location.

At the winter solstice, just the opposite occurs: The Sun is at its southernmost point and is low in the sky. Its rays hit the Northern Hemisphere at an oblique angle, creating the feeble winter sunlight.

Why Doesn’t the Summer Solstice Fall on the Same Date Each Year?

The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere ranges in date from June 20 to 22. This occurs in part because of the difference between the Gregorian calendar system, which normally has 365 days, and the tropical year (how long it takes Earth to orbit the Sun once), which has about 365.242199 days. To compensate for the missing fraction of days, the Gregorian calendar adds a leap day about every 4 years, which makes the date for summer jump backward. However, the date also changes because of other influences, such as the gravitational pull from the Moon and planets and the slight wobble in Earth’s rotation.

Did You Know?

Question: Why isn’t the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, also the hottest day of the year?

Answer: Earth’s atmosphere, land, and oceans absorb part of the incoming energy from the Sun and store it, releasing it back as heat at various rates. Water is slower to heat (or cool) than air or land. At the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives the most energy (highest intensity) from the Sun due to the angle of sunlight and day length. However, the land and oceans are still relatively cool, due to spring’s temperatures, so the maximum heating effect on air temperature is not felt just yet. Eventually, the land and, especially, oceans will release stored heat from the summer solstice back into the atmosphere. This usually results in the year’s hottest temperatures appearing in late July, August, or later, depending on latitude and other factors. This effect is called seasonal temperature lag.

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