Today is the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. Can you remember your Gr 4/Std 2 geography class when you learnt about solstices? You were taught that the Earth is tilted and this affects how close we are to the sun as the Earth revolves around it.
On this day the sun is furthest north, so the southern hemisphere will experience its shortest day.
In theory, we are supposed to have the longest night tonight. However, in Gauteng sunset was earlier last week. Today the sun will set at 17h25 in Johannesburg and at 17h45 in Cape Town.
Solstice means ‘sun standing’. To astronomers long ago, it appeared that the sun moved around the Earth and not ~ as we now know ~ the Earth moving around the sun. On the two days of solstice, they believed that the sun was standing still because the measurement of the sun from the horizon stopped rising and began to fall again. Then, six months later, it happened again.
Although the solstice is marked by a whole day on the calendar, it’s actually just the brief moment when the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Cancer that the event occurs. It occurred at 05h32 this morning (21 June).
It takes place at a different time each year and sometimes it falls on 20 June.
Those of us who don’t enjoy winter might think that they can draw comfort from the fact that we have reached the shortest day of the year and from now on the days will start getting longer again and therefore warmer ~ but that is not the case.
If you listen to astronomers they’ll tell you that winter has only started today! The meteorologists however base the seasons on the annual temperature cycle. They say that our winter started on 1 June.
The fun thing about the winter solstice is the shadows. Because the sun is at its lowest arc across the sky, shadows from its light are at their longest.