I’m referring to the season of Summer. It’s definition should be simple, but there actually are two definitions of Summer. There is Meteorological Summer and Astronomical Summer. The National Weather Service defines summer as: “Typically the warmest season of the year during which the sun is most nearly overhead. In the Northern Hemisphere, summer customarily includes the months of June, July, and August.” That’s Meteorological Summer. Astronomical Summer is more specific. It starts with the Summer Solstice in June and ends with the Autumnal Equinox in September.
The season of summer officially began with the Summer Solstice that occurred at 8:54 am PDT on Friday June 21st (last Friday). As I already mentioned, the National Weather Service defines the Summer Solstice as “the time at which the sun is farthest north in the northern hemisphere, on or around June 21.” The term is derived from a latin word, solstitium, meaning the sun (sol) and to stop (stitium).
Here is a little refresher course on exactly what that means. We know that the earth revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit around the sun. Two things determine the seasons of the year: the position of the sun in it’s orbit around the sun and the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the earth. The sun’s rays would be spread evenly over the earth if it weren’t for the fact that the earth is tilted 23.5 degrees from the plane of the ecliptic. That angle allows the sun’s rays to be concentrated in the northern hemisphere in the summer and in the southern hemisphere in the winter. The Summer Solstice is when the concentrated solar rays have moved to their farthest point to the north producing the longest day of the year. As the summer progresses those rays migrate southward reaching the southernmost concentration on the Winter Solstice (December 21/22) which is the shortest day of the year.
Fall Colors | Photo by Tim Chuey
In between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice are the Vernal or Spring Equinox and the Autumnal or Autumn Equinox. The equinox is defined by the National Weather Service as “the time when the sun crosses the earth’s equator, making night and day of approximately equal length over all the earth and occurring about March 21 (the spring or vernal equinox) and September 22 (autumnal equinox).
The arranged stones at Stonehenge in England have long been thought to have been built to honor the solstice. In an interview for an article in the Register (England) by Brid-Aine Parnelli it was explained that archeological teams from universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, and University College London have been investigating Stonehenge for ten years. They feel the monument was built as a symbol of a complex farm-subsidy agreement. A statement by the scientists states that they think the spot already had significance to the people there and building the monument made it even more important. “The solstice-aligned avenue sits on a series of natural landforms that, by chance, form an axis between the directions of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset” according to the scientists. Professor Mike Parker Pearson from Sheffield University, interviewed in the article, said “This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solistitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else. Perhaps they saw this place as the centre of the world.”
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