Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yesterday was... Summer Solstice

The four seasons are determined by the path of the earth around the sun, and its affect on the tilt of the earth’s axis in relation to the sun. Each season begins on either an equinox, or a solstice. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the day and night is of equal length. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year and winter solstice is the shortest day of the year.

The North Pole is tipped more toward the sun on the summer solstice than on any other day. The opposite is true for the Southern Hemisphere, where the same day is the winter solstice.

As a result, the sun appears at its highest point in the sky on noon of the summer solstice. Depending on the latitude of the viewer, the sun will appear to have a different “high point,” being directly overhead at about the latitude of Cuba, but still at a low angle when viewed in Alaska.

It’s all downhill from there, at least from the perspective of the height of the sun and the length of the days... until the day following the winter solstice.

Due to the differences in the astrological calendar and the human calendar, the day of the solstice varies, most often occurring on June 20th, but occasionally on June 21st.

The summer solstice has been celebrated by many cultures around the world for thousands of years.

The ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sun sets precisely between two of the Pyramids on the summer solstice.

The Incas, of South America, celebrated the summer solstice with a ceremony called “Inti Raymi,” which included food offerings and sacrifices of animals and maybe even people.

Chaco Canyon is home to a number of sites which are thought to be ancient observatories, the most famous being the “sun dagger.” Here, a set of spiral petroglyphs carved into a cliff face set behind three huge rock slabs, functions as a solar marker. At summer solstice, two shafts of light bracket one of the spirals perfectly. Light shafts strike the center of a nearby smaller spiral on the spring and fall equinoxes. It is thought that the dagger also tracked the 18.6 year lunar cycle.

And perhaps most famously, Stonehenge, in the United Kingdom, has been associated with the winter and summer solstices for about 5,000 years. ~Aimee

To learn more about Chaco Canyon, visit our feature at Taos Unlimited

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