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Fact for December 22

The Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is the first day of the Season of Winter*. On December 22 the Sun is farthest south and the length of time between sunrise and sunset in the northern hemisphere is the shortest of the year.

As the Earth circles around the Sun, it leans about 23 on its axis like a spinning top frozen in an off-kilter position. At this time, even though the Earth is rotating, the entire Arctic area is hidden from the Sun - almost.

Some people think that this day is one of 24 hours of darkness on the Arctic Circle, but not quite.

Sunrise and sunset are calculated from the leading and trailing edges of the Sun (and not the center). If the Sun was like a light bulb that turned "on" or "off" when the middle of it hit the horizon, the days of full sunlight and full darkness would be equal. (See the Sunset Guide)

So, today on the Arctic Circle, there is some sunlight. When the Sun is at its highest, it is still mostly hidden below the horizon, but it is "up" enough to provide about two hours of light.

Ancient people considered this day a very important one. If the Sun kept sinking lower and lower, and the amount of sunlight each day got less and less, soon everything would be black and life would end. On this date, the Sun stopped (solstice means "standing still sun") and thereafter, it started to climb in the sky. This was a time of great celebration - the increasing hours of sunlight meant that life would continue.

* This day is also the first day of the Season of Summer in the southern hemisphere.

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Library: Arctic, Sky/Seasons
Links: Arctic, Sunrise & Sunset
Guide to Aarctic Sunrise & Sunset
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