Shining Light on the Summer Solstice


By Chris Nelson

Ahh, the first day of summer.

It’s the day every Wisconsinite waits for after a long winter and a short spring.

We have felt the influences of the higher sun angles in the way of longer days and rambunctious weather patterns, but at 5:07 a.m. this morning, summer officially began.

What are the basic things you need to know about the first day of summer?

  • Technically it is the longest day of the year, but not always true.
  • The solstice sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer.
  • Days get shorter and shorter from here on out!
  • The hottest temperatures usually lag a few weeks after the solstice.
  • The solstice has, and still is, a hugely celebrated time for people in all cultures.

There might also be a few things you didn’t know about the summer solstice itself.

1) Have you ever thought about what “solstice” means? It comes from the Latin word meaning “sun stands still”, which it certainly appears to be doing during the solstice.

2) The summer solstice isn’t always on June 21. It varies between June 20, 21, and 22, because the Gregorian calendar doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with the earth’s rotation.

3) For those at the equator, the solstice is when the sun is lowest in the sky.

4) The world’s biggest bonfire took place during a solstice celebration two years ago in Norway. They set the world record with a bonfire bigger than 150-feet!

5) Have you heard of the Midnight Sun Game? It’s an annual baseball game played in Alaska by the Alaska Goldpanners. First pitch is always at 10:30 p.m. and the game runs through the morning hours.

The midnight sunrise over Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks, AK.

6) There are two solstices every year, one in June and another in December, known as the winter solstice.

7) Even though summer is thrown at us for the solstice, the earth is actually at its farthest point from the sun. Distance isn’t why we have summer; it has to do with the tilt of earth’s axis.

8) Galileo, one of the most celebrated scientists in history, was forced to recant his original theory that the earth spins around the sun in 1633 during the Roman Inquisition.

9) The Arctic Circle has 24 hours of sun during the solstice. Could you imagine having all that daylight? Keep in mind, Barrow, AK, doesn’t see the sun from the end of November until late January.

10) Earth is not the only planet with a summer solstice. Mars’ solstice will happen a few days after ours. For Uranus, the solstice lasts 42 Earth years!

Spirit, a NASA Mars rover, captured this shot of the Red Planet’s winter solstice in 2005.

If you missed the solstice this morning, no worries! There will be another one in December, and next year, and the following year, and the following year…


Chris Nelson is the morning meteorologist for CBS 58 in Milwaukee and a member of Denmark High School Class of 2003.      Twitter: @1ChrisNelson