The Summer Solstice and June’s Strawberry Moon, 2024

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The 2009 Strawberry Moon, following its occultation of the red supergiant star Antares on June 6-7. The star is visible to the southeast (left) of the moon. Imaged by the author with a 7.5 cm F/4 Newtonian astrograph, 1/4 second exposure using eyepiece projection.

Please see this article for more details about this image and the June 2009 occultation of the red supergiant star Antares.

This year’s Summer Solstice occurs on Thursday, June 20 (details below), followed the next day by this year’s full ‘Strawberry’ Moon on Friday, June 21st.

Why is June’s full moon the “Strawberry Moon”?

In North America and Europe, the name of each month’s moon is linked to nature and related to a particular season or seasonal activity. June’s full moon is known as the “Strawberry Moon” since it is during this time of year that Strawberries ripen and are thus harvested. The reference to strawberries is not related to the color of the moon as red, such as a strawberry.

A view to the southeast on Friday, June 21st. At 10:05 PM, EST, the Strawberry moon is observed at its rising low in the southeast. Scorpio with mighty Antares is seen to the west, just east of the meridian.

From Time and Date

According to some sources, a European name for this early summer month was Rose Moon, and another was Hot Moon, for the beginning of the summer heat. Other sources quote Mead Moon as the Anglo-Saxon name because this was the time for mowing the meads, or meadows.

There are several different kinds of wild strawberries. The native North American type is the Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), also known as Mountain strawberry or Common strawberry. It grows naturally in the United States, including Alaska, and Canada. It has also been exported; one popular variety, which was imported to Great Britain in the early 1900s, is called Little Scarlet.

For millennia, people across Europe, as well as Indigenous Americans, named the months according to natural aspects of the seasons or features they associated with the seasons, with some of these names very similar or identical. Many of these ancient month names are used today as full moon names.

For a comprehensive list of the various Full Moon names and their respective month, please visit this page.

Strawberry moon by:

The Summer Solstice, 2024

The 2024 Summer Solstice, the Astronomical beginning of summer and the longest day of the year, occurs this year on Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 4:50 pm EDT, the day before this year’s Full Strawberry moon!

What is the Summer Solstice?
Often referred to as the ‘First Day of Summer‘, a subjective term, the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is the day the sun is at its highest point above the southern horizon at midday. 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.

On the day of this year’s Summer Solstice, Thursday, June 20, a view due south with the sun at the top of its travel for the day and the year. In this view without an atmosphere, Mercury and Venus are lost in the glare of the brilliant sun, with Mars and Jupiter early morning objects, rising less than 2 hours before the sun.

Longest Day of the Year

The Summer Solstice marks the calendar as the longest day and, correspondingly, the shortest night in the Northern Hemisphere. Due to climatic 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 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.

This year’s summer solstice illustrated above with Stellarium shows the sun at the height of its travels above the southern horizon for 2024 on June 20th. Without the atmosphere, we would see the background stars and constellations of winter such as Orion, the hunter and Canis Major, the great dog. We also note the separation of the plane of the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system) and the Celestial Equator, the projection of the Earth’s equator onto the sky. This separation is exactly equal to the earth’s axial tilt of 23.5 degrees.

Seasonal Changes in Climate

The seasonal fluctuations in climate are not caused by a change in the earth-sun distance. All orbits are elliptical and, with earth’s orbital eccentricity of 0.0167, it’s nearly circular. All planets have a perihelion or closest point to the sun and an aphelion, furthest point. The earth’s perihelion occurs during January, the coldest month in the Northern Hemisphere and aphelion during July, the warmest month.

The earth’s axis remains tilted towards the same point on the sky in its orbit resulting in the sun’s changing elevation. This, in turn, causes the change in the Angle of Insolation and thus how much energy is received at the surface at a given location. The slight change in the earth-sun distance during the year has little or no effect on seasonal change in climate.

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 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.

A quick, interactive web-based version of Stellarium is available here Tonight's Sky. When you launch the application, it defaults to north-facing and your location (on mobile and desktop).

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