People gather to watch the Summer Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2014 in Wiltshire, England. (Tim Ireland/Getty Images)
Sunday, June 21, 2015 is the summer solstice. It’s also known as the first day of summer or the longest day of the year. The exact time of the summer solstice varies upon an individual’s geographical location, but in New York City it will be at 12:39 p.m. EDT.
1. There Are Two Solstices a Year
There are two solstices a year: summer solstice and winter solstice, which are not to be confused with “equinoxes.” Equinoxes occur in fall and spring and mean “equal night” in Latin, which means that both day and night get 12-hours. “Solstice” means “sun still” which means that depending on which direction the earth is tilted, it will receive more of either daylight or darkness. The summer solstice is known as the longest day of the year because the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun and those living there can see upwards of 15-hours of daylight during this time. While the northern hemisphere enjoys the extra sun, those living in the southern hemisphere will be experiencing the opposite: the winter solstice.
2. It’s the Longest Day of the Year
June 21 is the longest day of the year for northern hemisphere residents because of the earth’s tilt. The East Coast of the United States should receive nearly 15 hours of sunlight on the 21st, with the sun rising in New York at 5:25 a.m and setting at 8:31 p.m. To find out when the sunrises and sets in your location, click here and enter your zip code.
Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere will be experiencing the shortest day of the year.
3. It’s Celebrated in Ancient Cultures
The rising sun is seen through the standing stones at the prehistoric monument Stonehenge, near Amesbury in Southern England, on June 21, 2014, as revelers gather to celebrate the 2014 summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year. The festival, which dates back thousands of years, celebrates the longest day of the year when the sun is at its maximum elevation. Modern druids and people gather at the landmark Stonehenge every year. (GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
Northern European pagans still celebrate the summer solstice with a festival known as Midsummer, where many gather to watch the sun reach its highest point in the monolithic structures known as Stonehenge. Other modern day celebrations of Midsummer include giant bonfires. In more Christian times, the Catholic Church tried to integrate the festival into a created holiday known as feast of St. John the Baptist.
4. The Midnight Is Visible, Too
At certain upper longitudes during the summer solstice, the midnight sun is viewable, too. The midnight sun is a naturally occurring phenomenon where the sun’s disk is visible above the horizon for an entire day, or 24 full hours.
5. The Fall Equinox is Next
After the summer solstice for those in the northern hemisphere, it is officially summer until the autumnal equinox, which occurs on Wednesday, September 23, 2015.