This coming Thursday marks the shortest day of the year.
The Winter Solstice
As we move further and further into winter, the days are becoming shorter and the nights are growing longer. Fortunately, we’ll be moving back towards longer days after this Thursday — the shortest day of the year.
Thursday marks the winter solstice, which has the longest night and fewest daylight hours of the year. The solstice marks the exact time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted farthest away from the sun. Of course, the winter solstice will only really affect those of us in the north. The Southern Hemisphere, on the other hand, will see the beginning of the astronomical summer.
Thursday’s event will occur at the same exact time everywhere on Earth. In the United States, that time will be 11:28 a.m ET.
The solstice has long been an event celebrated by various cultures around the world. While druids and pagans celebrate the solstice specifically, the occurrence has also played a major part in the timing of some of our most popular holidays.
In a discussion with USA Today, Rick Kline of the Spacecraft Planetary Imaging Facility at Cornell University elaborated on the cultural significance of the event.
“Culturally, the solstices and equinoxes are typically used to denote either the beginnings of the seasons or the center points of the seasons…Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other holidays have arisen out of the solstices, equinoxes and the midpoints between them.”
While meteorologists usually view December 1st as the beginning of winter, the solstice is technically the astronomical beginning of the season. Because of the strange date of December 21 for the solstice, it makes more sense practically to have a more easily-remembered date for the beginning of the coldest months of the year.
It’s important to keep in mind that most locations don’t actually have the earliest sunset or latest sunrise during the solstice. In most areas, that occurs either weeks before or after the upcoming event this Thursday.
More Daylight To Come
It would make sense that the shortest day of the year would also be the coldest, but that’s actually a bit of a misnomer. The coldest day of the year usually lags behind a bit, because even though the amount of daylight increases as we move past the winter solstice, the Earth continues to shed more heat than it actually receives from the Sun. We’ll likely see the coldest day of the year in early to mid-January.
With the shortest day of the year just a couple days away, we can look forward to more daylight as we move into 2018. While cold weather will likely still plague those of us in the Northern Hemisphere for quite some time, it’s nice to know that we’ll at least be able to enjoy longer days and more exposure to the sun.
With seasonal depression being a major issue for many people in the winter months due to the lack of sunlight, it seems as if we’ll be moving past the worst of it in just a few days. Before we know it, the temperature will catch up to the longer days and we’ll be through the worst of the dark and cold. But until then, make sure you wear a few extra layers.