Today is the summer solstice, the longest "day" of the year and the official kickoff of summer. But what really happens during the solstice? School may be out for the yearm but that doesn't mean you can't wow your kids by teaching them something new. Here's what you need to know to share the facts and folklore of summer solstice with your kids:
Summer solstice translated.
The word "solstice," is Latin for "sun stands still." In astronomical terms, it is the time of year when the sun appears to stand still in the sky for several days — in other words, its noon-time elevation does not seem to change.
What happens during the summer solstice?
Some people think that the summer solstice is when the Earth is closest to the sun. The theory makes sense because it is the official starting point of summer. But if you watch this video
you can see that the theory is wrong. The Earth is actually closest to the sun in January, and we all know that January isn't known for its warmer temps. The summer solstice marks the time when the the Earth is tilted most directly toward the sun. For more details, check out the BBC's lesson plan for kids on the summer solstice
Did you know that one of the earliest known astronomical observatories is Stonehenge? Dating from about 3100 BC in Salisbury Downs, England, Stonehenge is a crazy arrangement of stone slabs in the middle of a field. Everyone has a different theory about why Stonehenge was created and why the stones were placed the way they were, but one interesting fun fact is that the circle of stone megaliths opens up in the direction of the summer solstice sunrise, leading some to surmise that Stonehenge was created as a monument to the summer sun.
Another interesting tidbit is that the ancient Druids believed that this day marked the marriage of the Earth and heavens. That's why June weddings are considered so lucky.