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Practical Techie: ’22 summer solstice brings array of astronomical spectacles

The summer solstice in 2022 will arrive when the Sun appears over the Tropic of Cancer — as far north as it appears in the sky all year and seems to pause briefly before reversing direction for the next six months tracing its longest and highest path through the sky. Solstices, equinoxes, and seasons occur because the Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun completely upright.

Instead, Earth’s axis is tilted by about 23.5 degrees, which causes each hemisphere to receive different amounts of sunlight throughout the year. As the longest day of the calendar year, the time of the solstice is a time of celebration.

ASTRONOMICAL — The summer of 2022 brings a string of astronomical spectacles to the hemispherical sky. In the early in the morning sky we can spot Mercury as the planet appears at its farthest distance from the Sun . At the end of June, MercuryVenus, the MoonMarsJupiter, and Saturn line up in order of their distance from the Sun in the pre-dawn sky. Also, at the end of the month, there will be a micro moon, which occurs when a full moon or a new moon coincides with the point farthest from Earth. In July, the planet will reach its aphelion —the point on its orbit farthest from the Sun. The Perseid meteor shower will occur in late August, and Saturn will be in opposition, visible from sunset to sunrise. At the end of summer, on September 23, there will be a full Harvest Moon.

TRADITION — Solstice is “solstitium” in Latin and means “the sun is stopping.” The ancients described it as such because it seemed to them the point where the Sun appears to rise and set, stops, and reverses direction from the 20th to the 21st of June in our hemisphere. Since the days of yore, the first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter can be defined using astronomical events like solstices and equinoxes. Over the centuries, the solstice has inspired countless works of art, legends, festivals, midsummer celebrations, and religious holidays.

Take Stonehenge, one of the world’s oldest pieces of evidence of the summer solstice. The megalithic structure marks the first summer day in southwest England, providing 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight. Stonehenge was built around 4,500 by farmers and herders. These were country folk with astronomical savvy due to sowing and harvesting time.

The solstice also had spiritual and practical significance, and Stonehenge was laid out to align with the movements of the Sun. As the Sun rises, a great shadow from the Heel Stone — a stone that lies outside the circle — is projected in the same direction from within the rock ring. This site offers a solstice live stream of sunrise and sunset at the monument.

NEW AGE — On a more mystical note, many new-age followers see the summer solstice as the shortest night of the year. It is when the Sun halts over the Tropic of Cancer (23°N26′) on its tropical journey north, then after some three days, it “turns” in its tracks and begins its journey south, towards the equator. The event in the heavens is the focus of religious and social festivities in all cultures. Christian society marks the event with the Midsummer festival known as St John the Baptist’s Day (June 24), during which people in Puerto Rico go to the beaches until midnight. In other cultures, traditional hilltop bonfires are lit to evoke the power of the Sun.

There is dancing around the fire as a ritual for a good harvest. Magical powers are invoked from the Sun, which is considered an ideal time for gathering herbs before dawn. Golden solar flowers such as moonwort, mistletoe, and golden bough are worn as garlands.

ASTROLOGY — The June solstice marks the entry of the Sun into the Water Sign of Cancer, to the actual degree of latitude that is as far north as it is going to go each year. The moon rules Cancer, and midsummer is when the elemental powers of fire and water are celebrated. Even in our twenty-first century, people come together and surf the cosmic waves of energy that astrologers believe are released at the solstice, either by the waterside or with bonfires.  

Author Details
Author Rafael Matos is a veteran journalist, a professor of digital narratives and university mentor. He may be contacted at cccrafael@gmail.com.

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