Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Solstice

When you step outside, you feel as if you have set foot into the very heart of the largest furnace in the world. The heat immediately traps you and clings to your skin, and all you want is a nice cool lake to swim in. It may feel like it has already begun, but the official first day of summer hasn't even arrived yet! So while you cringe at the thought of going outside into the Wisconsin summer heat, just know that there are still 3 more months of summer left to come. Wednesday, June 20th marks the beginning of summer 2012, and this day is what the Northern Hemisphere calls the Summer Solstice.

What is a solstice?

A solstice happens twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, and it is the one day of the year when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky (as seen from the North or South poles). For the Northern Hemisphere, this event occurs in June, but in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest point in December. While we often refer to the solstices as the "summer" and "winter" solstice, a more accurate name could be the "Northern Solstice" and "Southern Solstice," respectively.

The North Pole Experience

At the time of the Summer solstice, the Arctic circle will experience a much different kind of summer than we would ever have in Wisconsin. Because of the Earth's tilt, the North Pole will remain in full sunlight (24hrs, 7 days a week) for the entirety of the summer months. That's about 3 months of constant daylight! On the day of summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. After that day, the sun will gradually sink towards the horizon until the Fall Equinox, when it finally falls below the horizon to cause darkness. (The opposite of this occurs in the winter time. The North Pole will experience almost complete darkness from about early October until the Spring Equinox in March. The darkest day of the year is the Winter Solstice in December).

June 20th, 2012 - What to expect

On the summer solstice, one can expect only one thing for sure - lots and lots of daylight! The summer solstice is the one day of year when the Northern hemisphere experiences the longest hours of daylight. Wisconsin will most likely experience somewhere around 15 - 16 hours of daylight, with the sun not setting until very close to 9:00pm.

On the other hand, the Southern hemisphere will experience the shortest day of the year, having much less than 12 hours of sunlight.

Don't let the heat of the day scare you away though! It might be 90 degrees outside, but just remember to put on lots of sunscreen (especially on your face), wear light colors, and drink lots of water. Don't sit inside wasting the longest day of the year! Get outside and go swimming, fishing, boating, or maybe even go to the Memorial Union Terrace and grab a bite to eat while you enjoy some nice live music. You can take a walk in the UW- Madison Arboretum or check out the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Use those 15 hours of daylight wisely by being active and enjoying the great outdoors! If you can't think of anything to do, check out our Nature Net calendar for some ideas. And if you can't get outside on the 20th to enjoy the Summer Solstice, you always have the second longest day of the year - the 21st - to enjoy as well.

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