Winter Solstice: Five Facts You Didn't Know

Winter has come! December 21 marks the winter solstice, the shortest day in 2016. It is recognized for a whole day but the solstice happens in an instant -- at 5:44 a.m. EST (10:44 GMT) -- when the axial tilt of the Earth is farthest to the North Pole. Here are five facts to know about this phenomenon.

Meaning of Solstice

According to NASA, solstice comes from a Latin word, "solstitium," which means "the sun stands still." The sun will reach the southernmost part of the Northern Hemisphere and after that, the sun will stop moving southward and starts moving to the north.  

How Long Is The Shortest Day?

So, how long is the shortest day of the winter solstice? A report suggests that Washington DC will get about 9.5 hours of sunlight. Other northern countries will get less. Rovaniemi will get just a little over 2 hours according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The Earth Isn't Farthest From The Sun

With shorter days, some people mistake winter solstice as the time when the earth is farthest from the sun, however, seasons occur due to the axial tilt of the earth and not the distance. In fact, a few weeks after the winter solstice, the Earth's orbit is actually closest to the sun.

Earliest Sunset, Coldest Day Not During The Solstice

Here are some other false beliefs about the winter solstice. Just because it is the shortest day doesn't mean it has the earliest sunset or the latest sunrise. Most countries see the earliest sunset days before the winter solstice. In Washington DC, it is on Dec. 6. Meanwhile, the latest sunrise happens days after the winter solstice. It is also not the coldest day of the year. The winter solstice is the day when the earth gets the least direct sunlight but the coldest day usually on January.  

Connection To Stonehenge

Stonehenge always pops up with the subject of the winter solstice. But, what does all these science facts have to do with a bunch of rocks? There are speculations that the Stonehenge was built to mark the solstices and equinoxes because it is directly aligned with the sunset during the winter solstice. Every year, people gather in the Stonehenge to have festivities.


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