This year the heavenly bodies seem to have conspired to sweeten the pot with an event we haven’t seen in 70 years.
The summer solstice isn’t a rare event, a full moon even less so. But they’re both special, and when they just so happen to occur on the same day, as they will this year? That’s once-in-a-lifetime special.
The 2016 North American summer solstice happens on June 20, 2016 at 6:34 PM EDT. That’s the very moment when, essentially, the sun stands still at its northernmost point as seen from Earth. Its zenith doesn’t yearn north or south, but waits patiently at the Tropic of Cancer before switching directions and heading south again. This is where the word solstice comes from; the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop).
It’s the day of the year with the most sunlight, the grand dame of long summer days. Even though technically it is only the first day of summer, it may actually be the best one of all. In New York City, we will have a whopping 15.05 hours of daytime. (You can check your day length at the Farmer’s Almanac sunrise and sunset calculator, if you’re so inclined.)
The summer solstice alone is iconic enough. It’s a day with a time-honored history rife with pagan celebrations and all things Stonehenge. But this year we get the big beautiful bonus of a full moon, which hits its peak on the same day. This hasn’t happened in 70 years.
“Having a full moon land smack on the solstice is a truly rare event,” says Farmer’s Almanac astronomer Bob Berman. “We probably won’t push people off pyramids like the Mayans did, but Slooh [a live-streaming global network of telescopes] will very much celebrate this extraordinary day of light with fascinating factoids and amazing live telescope feeds.” (See below.)
Meanwhile, adding a touch of poetry to the whole shebang, the June moon was known as the Strawberry Moon to early Native American tribes, who measured time by things like the moon, rather than a grid on a piece of paper or an electronic device. The full moon that happened now marked the season of strawberries – as it still does. More and more people have started harkening back to these more-seasonal full moon names; it's an especially lovely practice.
Meanwhile, Slooh along with the Farmer's Almanac will have a live broadcast of the summer solstice/strawberry moon one-two punch from their flagship observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands. You can view it here … or better yet, go outside, gaze up and pay homage to the heavens above.