Solstice! Fun Facts and Out-of-This-World Activities to Do With Your GirlLearning
Earth orbits the Sun at a jaunty angle—that is, it spins on an axis that is tilted 23.5 degrees compared to its path around the Sun—and that bit of astronomical flair makes our world a delightfully hospitable place. In fact, the position of Earth relative to the Sun helps protect our planet from devastating temperature extremes, gives us days and nights that vary in length, and creates different climate zones (read: vacation spots) all over the planet. The cycle of our seasons is also a direct result of our axial tilt and location in orbit: spring and fall begin with an equinox, and a solstice heralds the beginning of summer and winter, when the North Pole (in June) or South Pole (in December) is tilted toward the sun.
MISSION 1: DESIGN A PLANET.
Learning about how our solar system works—and especially about the relationship between a planet and its sun—can help your girl create a planet of her very own! Imagine all that’s possible when creativity and science combine.
The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “stands still” or “halts.” That’s because, from the ground, the path of the sun appears to change from day-to-day, passing higher overhead in summer and staying lower to the horizon in winter. The June solstice marks the point at which, in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will appear at its highest point in the sky. On every day that follows, its path across the sky will seem to be just a bit lower than the day before, until the December solstice, when it will appear to climb once more. So “solstice” describes the point at which the sun “halts” in its progress north or south before seeming to reverse direction again.
MISSION 2: TRACK THE SUN’S PATH.
There are several ways to chart the sun’s seasonal path across the sky: take a photo of the horizon and use sticky dots to chart the location of the sun over time, or mark the shadows cast by a stationary object on a flat surface. The key is to record your observations at precisely the same time, and from precisely the same place, each week. Search “analemma project for kids” to find some cool ideas for tracking the sun.
Did you know . . .
- Thanks to its slightly elliptical orbit, Earth is actually farthest from the sun in summer, about two weeks after the summer solstice.
- Using a bit of geometry, it is possible to calculate Earth’s size by measuring shadows cast at two separate locations when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. In the 3rd century BCE, this method enabled Eratosthenes of Cyrene to estimate Earth’s circumference with surprising accuracy: his measurements at the summer solstice brought him to within 1% of today’s accepted figure of approximately 24,900 miles.
- The summer solstice brings the longest day of the year, but not the earliest sunrise.
- Twilight lasts longer during the solstice—a perfect reason to linger outside.
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