Over the past six months, the Northern Hemisphere has experienced a shortening of the days and a lengthening of the nights. But that’s about to reverse itself.
A good chunk of the world, at least, celebrates the Winter Solstice of 2022 on Wednesday, December 21 (well, for a decent chunk of the world anyway), the shortest day of the year, and the official start of winter. For thousands of years, people have been fascinated by how this all works and how it can be achieved.
The first thing we will do is examine the science behind the solstice, as well as its precise timing. Then we’ll explore some ancient traditions and celebrations around the world.
A brief explanation of the science and timing behind the winter solstice
During the winter solstice, the sun appears at its most southerly point directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. This is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
On the other hand, the situation is very different in the Southern Hemisphere, where only around 10% of the world’s population lives. Throughout places such as Argentina, Madagascar, New Zealand, and South Africa, the December solstice marks the longest day of the year — and the start of summer — and marks the start of the longest day of the year.
Does it happen at a particular time or at a specific place?
There is no guarantee that the solstice will occur on December 21 but it usually does. There is a possibility that the date of the solstice will change due to the fact that the solar year (the time it takes for the sun to return in the same place as seen from Earth) does not exactly coincide with our calendar year.
According to EarthSky.org and Farmers’ Almanac, if you want to be as exact as possible with your observations, the exact time of the 2022 winter solstice will be 21:48 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Wednesday, according to EarthSky.org. There is almost a six-hour difference between this year’s time and last year’s time.
Are there any places that witness and feel the effects of the winter solstice more than others?
At the North Pole, on December 21, the amount of daylight decreases dramatically the closer you are to it.
Singapore is a Caribbean island just 137 kilometers north of the equator, so the people there barely notice any difference between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, as they have just nine fewer minutes of daylight than they do during the summer solstice. There are just about twelve hours of daylight every day there, give or take a few minutes here and there, throughout the year.
In spite of its much higher latitude, Paris still manages to log in a respectable eight hours and fourteen minutes of daylight during the winter season to enjoy a chilly stroll along the Seine.
It is even more apparent in the frigid Norwegian city of Oslo, where sunrise at 9:18 a.m. will be followed by sundown at 3:12 p.m., resulting in less than six hours of anemic daylight in the city. Sun lamp, anyone?
Residents of Nome, Alaska, will be even more sunlight deprived with just three hours and 54 minutes and 31 seconds of very weak daylight. But that’s downright generous compared with Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It sits inside the Arctic Circle and won’t see a single ray of sunshine.
What causes the winter solstice to even happen?
Because Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we have changing seasons. As the planet moves around the sun, each hemisphere experiences winter when it’s tilted away from the sun and summer when it’s tilted toward the sun.
Hold on! Why is the Earth tilted?
Scientists are not entirely sure how this occurred, but they think that billions of years ago, as the solar system was taking shape, the Earth was subject to violent collisions that caused the axis to tilt.
What other seasonal transitions do we mark?
The equinoxes, both spring, and fall, occur when the sun’s rays are directly over the equator. On those two days, everyone everywhere has a nearly equal length of day and night. The summer solstice is when the sun’s rays are farthest north over the Tropic of Cancer, giving us our longest day and the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.