Published: Fri, December 22, 2017
Research | By Clarence Powell

First Day of Winter: 4 Fast Facts

First Day of Winter: 4 Fast Facts

But when will the sun set on today's winter solstice and what does it mean?

What is the winter solstice, and why do we have it?

It's easiest to imagine when you consider an Earth-centric view - instead of having a tilted Earth orbiting the Sun, we imagine that the Sun follows a tilted orbit around the Earth.

"Earth's axis is tilted 23.5 degrees relative to its orbit, and on December 21, Earth will be at the point in its orbit when the North Pole is tilted at its maximum away from the sun", Schneider told CBS News.

This occurs because of the Earth's tilt on its axis and the rate at which the Earth spins. However, that's not the case for everyone.

Also for us in the southern hemisphere, it's not so surprising that the longest day of the year happens in December.

When does the winter solstice occur?

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Paganism and Witchcraft, to dispel any certain prejudices, are simply believers in the power of the natural world, including the Sun, Moon and the earth we live on as the center of their belief system.

The winter and summer solstices, along with the equinoxes, loom large in myth and folklore.

Of course, it's all opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where December 21 marks the beginning of astronomical summer.

You can check the precise times in your area using this sunset calendar. Next year, the moment of the solstice will be about 6 hours later at 5:23 p.m. ET. That time this year is at 4:28 PM Universal Time, or 9:28 PM Eastern time on Thursday.

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The annual pagan celebration, also known as midwinter, signifies the astrological start of the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The winter solstice is not normally the coldest day of the year.

Over the years, ancient cultures from Europe to the Americas have developed customs and rituals to revel in the journey toward summer and warmer days. Our coldest time of the year is nearly a month later, around January 14 each year.

While the shortest day can be kind of a bummer, it has a little silver lining: It means that from here, sunlight will stick around longer and longer. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow.

"Though most refer to the solstice as an entire day, in reality, the solstice is defined as a single moment: when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn".

Why doesn't the earliest sunset come on the shortest day?

On the day of the solstice, the sun stops its southerly migration and appears to rise in the same spot for a few days (sun stands still). In most locations across the USA, the minimum daily temperature occurs around two or three weeks later, in early to mid-January.

While a solstice represents either a longest or shortest day, the equinox falls on the days where day and night are the same length.

What does all of this have to do with Stonehenge?

In Japan, this is an especially sacred time of the year for famers, as the sun returns to help their crops grow after the long winter.

The prehistoric monument was built to align with the sun on this one morning every year, with the light hitting a special roofbox and illuminating the chamber.

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