Everything You Need to Know About the Summer Solstice
The summer solstice is right around the corner, and those in the northern hemisphere have reason to celebrate. This annual day in late June is a favorite among sun seekers each year, because it marks the official start of summer north of the Equator. Its arrival signals warmer temperatures and longer days ahead—the hallmarks of that blissful summer season we spend all winter dreaming about.
From backyard barbecues and swimming pool parties to extended trips to the lake or beach, the solstice means summer is truly here. To help you make the most of it this year, here’s everything you need to know about the summer solstice.
When Is the Summer Solstice?
This year, the northern summer solstice occurs on June 21, 2022—and to be even more precise, it officially begins at 5:13 a.m. EST (or whatever time that may be in your own time zone). This astronomical event will occur for all locations that lie north of the Equator, but the opposite is true for destinations that are south of that 0-degree latitude line. Think of the two sides of the Equator like a seasonal Yin and Yang. In those southern locations, June 21 this year will usher in the start of winter, while December 21, 2022—the date of this year’s northern winter solstice—will ultimately mark the summer solstice for those south of the Equator.
What Exactly Is a Solstice?
Now you know when it will happen this year—but just what is a solstice? Scientifically speaking, solstices happen based on the tilt of the Earth. Picture our planet as a top that rotates on its axis from west to east, with each full rotation taking a little less than 24 hours. This is how we generally mark a calendar day, and it’s why the times of sunrise and sunset shift a few minutes each day. But unlike a top, the Earth isn’t oriented exactly straight up and down the way we perceive it on a map; it’s actually tilted 23.4 degrees in its orbit around the sun.
What this means is that the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun for half of the year—roughly March through September—and away from it the other half. While it’s tilted toward the sun, this period equates to the longer, warmer days of spring and summer, thanks to the longer exposure to the sun’s rays. And the summer solstice itself is the midway point in this sun-facing rotation. In other words, it’s the exact middle point of this cycle, and therefore it’s the longest day of the year in terms of daylight.
Is There Any Historical Significance to the Solstice?
While the summer solstice itself is astronomical in nature, cultures throughout history have looked to this day as a marker of good things to come. It’s believed that neolithic humans observed the summer solstice as an important indicator for their crop cycles. In ancient Greece, this day marked the start of the new year, rather than celebrating in January as we do today. The ancient Egyptians used the solstice as a marker to help predict any flooding of the Nile river each year. And cultures throughout Northern Europe—and particularly within Scandinavia—observe the solstice with a celebration known as Midsummer, even today.
Why Do We Call It a Solstice?
The term derives from the Latin words sol (meaning sun) and sistere (meaning to stand still). This is because each solstice corresponds to either the day of the year with the most daylight hours, as in the summer solstice; or the day with the least daylight hours, as in the winter solstice. In each of these events, it can seem that the sun is essentially “standing still” for a time, which is how it earned its name.
Is a Solstice the Same Thing as an Equinox?
You’ve probably heard the term equinox just as often as you’ve come across the word solstice, so you may think they’re interchangeable. But they are actually different astronomical events in the same rotational cycle. The word equinox also derives from Latin (aequus, meaning equal, plus nox, meaning night). And it corresponds to the two occasions per year, in March and September, during which the day and night hours are roughly equal.
The two annual equinox events—called vernal in March and autumnal in September—do share a commonality with the solstices, though. Where the solstice marks the start of summer or winter, the equinox marks the start of spring or fall in between.
Does the Summer Solstice Fall on the Same Day Every Year?
Since the summer solstice is an astronomical event, it isn’t tied to a specific calendar date each year—although it does always fall within the same few days, between June 20-22 each year. The same is true of the winter solstices, and both equinoxes. They always fall within a small range of dates.
If It’s the Longest Day, Why Doesn’t It Have the Hottest Temperatures?
It would seem intuitive that the longest day of the year would also be the hottest, but this is rarely the case. The reason for this effect is generally referred to as the “lag of the seasons.” For this phenomenon, it’s helpful to think of the sun’s rays as a heating source that’s working to warm up the planet after a long, cold winter. It can simply take a bit of time to heat up Earth, to melt the ice that’s accumulated, and to warm up the oceans and other bodies of water that compose around 71 percent of the planet’s surface. This is why we tend to feel warmer temperatures later into the summer, such as in July and August.
What’s the Best Way to Enjoy the Summer Solstice?
This is an easy one: go outside! With the greatest number of daylight minutes all year, and without the scorching temperatures that are sure to follow just a few months later, the summer solstice on June 21 just may be the perfect day for beach goers and sun lovers to get outdoors.Set that alarm for sunrise to make the most of the day (and remember: as it is the solstice, this sunrise will be particularly early). Dress to be outside the whole day, wearing comfortable and ideally UPF-rated clothing that offers sun protection, along with a sun hat to block those direct overhead rays. Grab your favorite sunglasses to protect your eyes as you soak up all that glorious daylight. And remember to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. With this preparation, you’ll be ready to get outside and enjoy the summer solstice, all day long.