Winter Solstice is officially today Wednesday (Dec. 21), and it marks the beginning of the winter.
Although the whole day is considered as the winter solstice, scientists can actually measure the precise moment when it happens. It happens in an instant: at 5:44 a.m. EST (10:44 GMT), when the North Pole is at its farthest tilt of 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This position leaves the North Pole beyond the sun’s reach, and plunges it into total darkness, according to EarthSky.org.
Winter solstice is usually on 21 December. But the date varies each year because of a slight difference between the time that we use and the solar time. Because of this, every fourth year is the leap year.
After winter solstice the days will get longer, and nights will be shorter.
“That is the exact instant when the center of the sun’s disc crosses the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 degrees south,” said Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and a member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches. “It is my favorite day of the year because it has the longest starry night.”
A variety of Ancient civilizations has celebrated the winter solstice in different ways.
The Stonehenge in England is one of the most interesting examples. Built for the purpose of the celebration of the solstice, the sun rays align with Stonehenge’s central Altar stone and Slaughter stone, which indicates spiritual significance to the people who built it between 3000 BC. and 2000 BC.
Not far away from Stonehenge in northeastern Ireland is The Newgrange monument. The grass mound site dates back to about 3200 BC which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers. During sunrise on the winter solstice, the main chamber is aligned with the sun and filled with sun rays.
In the close neighborhood Orkney, Scotland is Maeshowe burial grass mound, which dates back to 2800 BC. The maze that is built inside grass mound gets flushed with sunlight during the shortest day of the year.
On the other side of the world, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is the ancient Mayan city of Tulum. Known for ancient stone wall and the buildings that contain a small hole at its top that produces a starburst effect when the sun rises on the winter (and summer) solstice.
Ajanta Caves, India
The Ajanta Caves are a group of around 30 man-made caves that cuts into the side of a sheer cliff face. Buddhist monks started building the place 200 BC and ended around 480 – 650 CE. Cave 19 aligns to the winter solstice sunrise as the sun flashes on the great statue of Budha.
The Serpent mound, United States
The Serpent mound, in Ohio, United States is a giant earthwork in the shape of the snake. The site was built by the Native American Adena culture between 1000 BC to 1 CE. The tip of the serpent’s tail is in coil shape and point to the winter solstice sunrise.