The Summer Solstice, 2021

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This view south on the Summer Solstice as the sun crosses the meridian (green line) at mid-day. Note that the angular separation between the sun’s position on the ecliptic (the red line and the imaginary path all solar-system objects appear to travel on) and the Celestial Equator, the projection of the Earth’s Equator onto the sky. The separation of these two points, the sun’s position on the ecliptic at local noon and the Celestial Equator at the Summer Solstice is exactly equal to our planet’s angular tilt from the vertical of 23.5º. Image via Stellarium.

The Summer Solstice this year occurs on Sunday, June 20 at 3:32 AM, UTC (11:32 PM EDT).

What is the Summer Solstice?

Often referred to as the ‘First Day of Summer‘, a generally subjective term, the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere is the day the sun is at its highest point above the southern horizon at at mid-day. In practical terms, this is the moment during the year when northern hemisphere inhabitants receive the greatest amount of energy from the sun. This angle above the horizon, known as the ‘Angle of Insolation‘, determines how much energy is received from the sun at a given location. The Summer Solstice also marks the calendar as the longest day and, correspondingly, the shortest night.

The seasons are reversed for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere. It is on this same day they experience their Winter Solstice or the point during the year when the sun is at its lowest point above the northern horizon.

Seasonal Reflections

As the last vestiges of the winter sky are low in the west at twilight, we look forward to the late spring and early summer sky.

With Lyra the celestial harp ascending the northeastern sky towards midnight along with Cygnus and the rich summer Milky Way following close behind, we’re certain that warm summer months will soon follow. Many would consider this their favorite time of year, a time that hearkens back to younger days, to a time when you could see magnitude 5.5 stars (the faintest stars visible to the eye are magnitude 6) and a breathtaking view of the Milky Way from many suburbs. With the fresh spring air, the sweet smell of Lilacs and Honey Suckle wafting about with the temperature and humidity still moderate, it’s truly a pleasure to be out under the stars.

June’s Full Moon

Four days after the Summer Solstice this year, the full moon for June, historically known as the Strawberry Moon, will occur on the 24th. As we’ve often discussed, each month’s full moon is identified with a specific natural event particular to that month. June’s Full moon occurs during the time of year when wild strawberries start to ripen during early summer. The Strawberry moon is also known as the Rose Moon, Hot Moon, and the Mead Moon. Additional information on the lore of the moon and its names can be found here.

Due to climactic factors and buffering by the earth’s atmosphere, we don’t feel the full effects of this maximum energy received for at least a month into July and August.

The Night Sky on the Summer Solstice

In this view to the south approaching midnight and high in the southwest, the waxing gibbous moon is prominently placed in Virgo. Serene Saturn is in Capricorn low in the southeast with the red supergiant star Antares, the heart of Scorpio the scorpion, crossing the meridian at midnight. In a previous article, we featured the full splendor of the Milky Way’s Galactic Center and the Summer Milky Way.

Please note: a fully interactive ‘Sky Tonight‘ feature is available on our home page.

View to the south, midnight during this year’s Summer Solstice. Image via Stellarium.

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