Published 2016-12-22
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Few things you didn't know about the longest night of the year

Winter solstice is a cosmic wonder denoting the shortest and longest day and night of the year respectively. In the Northern Hemisphere it is known as the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere, it is known as the June solstice. Wednesday, December 21, was the shortest day and Tuesday night was the longest night of the year 2016. AKA the official first day of winter.

We've summarized a few points about the solstice, however, the longest night of the year was last recorded way back in 1912. Nobody is truly certain to when did the people in the past perceive the winter solstice and started proclaiming it as a defining moment, but it's for sure that this day signifies the arrival of the sun back to the northern side of the equator, i.e. northern hemisphere.

Why does it happen?

A lot of people know that the Earth circles around the sun on an invisible tilted axis. It is believed that our planet slammed into some other huge object before billions of years when our planet was still undergoing the process of it being formed.
Between the months of September and March, Earth's Northern Hemisphere is less exposed to the direct sunlight through the span of a day. Whatever is left of the year, the north gets more straightforward sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere gets lesser than that. It's also the main explanation for the change in seasons.

How many hours of sunlight is there?

It all depends on the place you live. The further north you live, the less daylight you receive and the more drawn out the night will be. Climatologist, Brian Brettschneider made a guide for the United States, to help understand the solstice. He also has graphs on the solstice, incorporating the differentiation in daylight amongst winter and summer solstices.

Does the winter solstice have the most earliest dusk of the year?

Because December 21 was the shortest day of the year, it doesn't necessarily have to have the earliest and latest sunset and sunrise that day. Brettschneider made a guide indicating the times of dusk and dawn for various parts in North America. However, Washington, DC, missed it's earliest dusk because it took place on December 6, they will have the most fastest and earliest dawn on January 6. This day is perfect if you love to sleep, the sun won't be up that early.

Is it the coldest day of the year?

Not really. It's a fact that the Northern Hemisphere gets the minimum direct daylight during winter solstice, and it's said to be the first day of winter, however, it's not the coldest. It's possible to have the coldest day or months even after the winter solstice. So don’t throw away the warm clothes just yet, because the worst is just around the corner.

Why is it related to the Stonehenge?

It's not sure why Stonehenge was constructed all those centuries ago. However, one strong point that stands against all is that it might have been used to indicate the solstices and equinoxes. It's because it's surprisingly very strategically placed in exact alignment with the sunset during the winter solstice.

Was Tuesday the longest night in Earth's whole history?

Not really. And the reason behind it is something you'll find quite interesting. The Earth's revolution has been little by little slowing down over time because of tidal friction. Which means that over VERY LONGGG stretches of time, the days have been getting relentlessly more long. Around 4.5 billion years back, it took the Earth only six hours to finish one turn, that was 6 hrs in a day. Around 350 million years back, it took 23 hours, and today, obviously, it takes 24 hours. It's believed that the hours in a day will still increase over time.
So now it only makes sense that you'd think the winter solstice of 2016 would be the longest night in history, but tidal friction is not the only factor affecting the revolution of the Earth, there are other factors contributing to it, which has helped scientists determine an estimate that the longest night most likely happened in 1912.

Is the whole day a winter solstice?

The vast majority of people consider the entire day the December Solstice. Be that as it may, the Solstice is only really at a particular time, i.e. when the Sun is precisely aligned over the Tropic of Capricorn.
In 2016, the winter solstice fell on December 21, at 10:44 UTC. Because of the difference in time zones, few areas will have their solstice on another date and time.

Is it celebrated?

Around the world, there are many cultures that perform solstice services, because it was a fear among the people in ancient days that the light would disappear to never return unless it was under watch constantly and then celebrated for still being there. Hence a lot of astronomical observatories like tombs, cairns, temples and more were built to come in direct alignment to the solstices and equinoxes.
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Source:Brian B's Climate Blog, Giphy

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