Summer solstice


This year the June solstice, also known as the Summer Solstice, occurs on June 21. This is the longest day of the year for all of us north of the equator, and the beginning of summer.  South of the equator it's the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter.  This is the day that the Sun rises and sets as far north as it ever does, which gives 24 hours of daylight north of the Arctic Circle, and 24 hours of darkness south of the Antarctic Circle.

Why does this happen? The Earth orbits around the Sun with a 23.5-degree tilt on its axis. Because of this tilt, we can enjoy the four seasons. If there was no tilt the Sun would always be centered on the equator. For several months of the year half of the Earth receives more direct rays of the Sun than the other half. The farther north you go in the summer, the longer the days are. So, unless you like to stay up late, June is not the best month to observe the night sky! Planets and bright stars will be visible about an hour after sunset, but full viewing darkness doesn't occur until after 10 p.m.

Throughout the world the Solstice represents a "turning" of the year. Things sprout and begin to grow in the spring, reach fullness in the summer, begin to dry and wither in autumn, and rest in winter.

Summer Solstice is also a sacred time of the year that has been honored throughout the ages by many cultures, each with their own unique kind of festivals and spiritual ceremonies. Native Americans honored it with the Sun Dance Ceremony; a 28-day celebration featuring singing, drumming, dancing, prayers, meditation, and the cultivating of visions. They also made large stone structures. The two most famous are Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and Fajeda Butte in Chaco Canyon, which the Navajo consider sacred ground.

On June 16, Mercury is at its western elongation. Unfortunately, you’ll have to get up around 4:30 to see the planets. In the ENE you’ll be able to see the moon and planets. Mercury, Venus and the Pleiades are arranged in a triangle. On June 18, the moon sits below Saturn in the South. On June 21, the Moon and Jupiter are close together. The moon is now at its last quarter, so it will only be a half-moon.

All seven planets are lined up with Mercury on the left and then Venus is first just a little to the right and above it. Then Uranus, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune and Saturn are just a little to the right and each slightly above the previous one. You will need binoculars to see Uranus and Neptune, but the others will be fine to view with the naked eyes.

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