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Celebrating the Sun and the Summer Solstice

This article appeared in the June 20, 2014 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise

 

The Summer Solstice is on June 21, 2014, at 3:51am, heralding the start of the astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere (and astronomical winter in the southern hemisphere). Before the advent of the modern calendar, many civilizations marked this celestial event as the start of planting season as they inferred that summer was imminent.

 

Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (meaning sun) and sistere (meaning to stand still). Prior to the Summer Solstice, the sun appears to climb higher each day on its apparent path in the sky (ecliptic), stopping at the highest point on the day of the solstice, and then appears to be lower in the sky each day after the solstice.

 

Seasons are caused by the tilt of Earth's rotational axis as it revolves around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs when the northern pole of Earth's axis is pointed at its maximum angle of 23.5° towards the sun. Summer season begins in the northern hemisphere as it receives more solar radiation, and the southern hemisphere experiences the start of winter as it receives less sunlight. The opposite happens six months later during the Winter Solstice.

 

On the day of the Summer Solstice, the sun is directly overhead at noon for locations at the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5°N), and it is highest in the noon sky for all locations north of Tropic of Cancer than at any other time of the year. Also, the sun is at its lowest in the noon sky for all locations south of Tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23.5°S).

 

On this day, locations in the northern hemisphere see the sun rise furthest north of east, and set furthest north of west. As this results in the longest path of the sun above the horizon, Summer Solstice is also the longest day for the northern hemisphere, varying from 12 hours-long day at the Equator (latitude 0°) to 24 hours-long day from the Arctic Circle (latitude 66.6°N) to the North Pole (latitude 90°N).

 

Even though the summer nights are shorter in duration than winter nights, the warmer temperatures make it ideal for stargazing. The Summer Triangle asterism, with three very bright blue-white stars (Vega in Lyra constellation, Deneb in Cygnus constellation, and Altair in Aquila constellation) at each vertex, dominates the summer night sky. From darker locations, the Milky Way, comprised of billions of stars, is clearly visible traversing through the Summer Triangle.

 

Another summertime celestial highlight is the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12, 2014. Dust particles left behind from the comet Swift-Tuttle create spectacular streaks in the night sky as they vaporize upon entry into the earth’s upper atmosphere.

 

Please join us for the next free Davis Astronomy Club meeting on Saturday, June 21, 2014, starting at 6:30pm at the Explorit Science Center (3141 5th Street, Davis). All ages are welcome to attend. We will first look at the sun using telescopes equipped with special filters, followed by the featured presentation indoors and the star party outdoors.

 

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Explorit’s coming events:

 

  • Summer Science Camp is here and several spots are still open!  Visit www.explorit.org for all the details or to register.
  • Save the date:  Sunday September 7th!!  Our exciting “Final Blast Festival and Chemistry Show” will once again wow you and your kids!  This event celebrates the end of our Summer Science Camp season and fun way to start the new school year!

 

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

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