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Summer/Winter Solstice

Posted by LibeRaCe on June 19, 2009

A few questions for you.

  1. In 2008, when was the shortest day? A. 21st December – The winter solstice.
  2. In 2008, when was the earliest sun-set? A. Strangley enough not 21st December, it was the 12th December (Royal Observatory Blog) due to the Earths tilt and the shape of  it’s orbit.
  3. If todays date is Thursday 4th October what will tomorrows date be? A. Friday 5th October of course, except in the year 1582 in which case it was Friday 15th October following a decree by the pope . (Pope Gregory XIII)

Why? I hear you cry. Well according to Wikipedia . “Since 45 BCE, when the 25th [December] was established in the Julian calendar as the winter solstice of Europe, the difference between the calendar year (365.2500 days) and the tropical year (365.2422 days) moved the day associated with the actual astronomical solstice forward approximately three days every four centuries” (

This explains why Christmas Day is not held on the winter solstice. It used to be, but that was when the world worked on the Julian calendar.

Why am I wittering on about the winter solstice when we are in the middle of summer? A. because this Sunday will be the summer solstice (in the UK) but in the Southern Hemisphere it will be the winter solstice, a time for much celebration. In the Antarctic this marks the midpoint of the winter darkness and everyone starts to look forward to the return of the sun. In the Northern hemisphere it heralds the onset of shorter days and longer nights and was a very important festival for ancient cultures throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Finally, The Summer Solstice in the UK this year (2009) will be on June 21st as it will next year. What date was it last year? A. June 20th – this confused me at the time and now I know why (see Greenwich Observatory below)…

If you would like to know more about the solstice (and the equinox, rotation of the Earth etc) have a look at the Greenwich Observatory web site.


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