The Science Behind the Summer Solstice and Its Ancient Celebrations

Written by Mary Triplett, Meteorologist

Last updated 6/21/2022, 4:22:29 PM

Even though we’ve already had two massive heat waves across the eastern half of the United States, it wasn’t officially summer until today. The Summer Solstice arrived at 5:14 a.m. eastern time. 

Meteorologists and climatologists consider June 1st the start of Meteorological Summer because of easy record temperature keeping but astronomically speaking, the Tropic of Cancer is aligned directly with the sun on this date.

The science behind the Summer Solstice is easy, the Earth is tilted approximately 23.5 degrees off a vertical axis. This tilt allows the sunlight to be directly aimed at the Northern Hemisphere, it also allows for the longest daylight hours of the year. 

In fact, this is the one day of the year when the Arctic Circle experiences a continuous period of daylight for 24 hours.

Do you know when the sunrise/sunset is in your hometown? Check out the Date and Time website .

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word for sun (sol) and sistere: that means to stay still. Several historical landmarks are believed to have been built by ancient people with the solstice in mind … think Mayans and Stonehenge. 

The Mayans constructed many of their sacred cities like Tulum, Chichen Itza and Uxmal with these important astronomical dates in mind. You will find that the Mayan observations and temples were positioned specifically to observe the movements of the sun.

Stonehenge was built between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago in southwest England byt a sun-worshiping Neolithic culture. Experts still debate its purpose, but it is aligned so that on the summer solstice the sun rises behind the Heel Stone and rays of sunlight are channeled into the center of the circle.

The days will be hot this summer and we’ll be watching the tropics closely as we go into a busy hurricane season.

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