The December solstice – the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere – is upon us. The new season officially begins at 04:48 UTC on December 22nd, which is 11:48 PM EST tonight.
The astronomical seasons are produced by the tilt of the Earth’s axis – a 23.5° angle – and the movement of the planet around the sun. During the winter months, the northern half of the Earth is tilted away from the sun. This position means the northern hemisphere receives the sun’s energy at a less direct angle and brings us our coolest temperatures of the year.
Since the summer solstice in June, the arc of the sun’s apparent daily passage across the sky has been dropping toward the southern horizon and daylight hours have been decreasing. Today, it will reach its southern most position at the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° south latitude) marking the shortest day of the year. This observable stop is where today’s event takes its name. Solstice is derived from the Latin words “sol” for sun and “sisto” for stop.
Starting tomorrow, the sun will appear to move northward again and daylight hours will slowly start to increase. Marking this transition from darkness to light, the winter solstice has long been a cause for celebration across many cultures throughout human history.