Summer Solstice

What's Up? by Adam England

Modern cultures celebrate the summer solstice on June 21 this year, the day the Earth’s north pole tilts farthest toward the Sun.

This tilt of 23.44 degrees is what gives us the seasons as we move around the Sun each year. Midsummer festivals have been held by cultures across the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years to celebrate the procession of the Sun’s path across the sky. It's one of the first astronomical events we know was recognized by ancient cultures, directly affecting their lives through weather and crop production.

Ancient Persia celebrated Tirgan, when Tishtrya the Archangel brought the rains for the summer crops with the wind of his arrow. Where the arrow landed settled the border between two warring kingdoms, and the rains and subsequent harvest offered a welcome peace. The Chinese hold their Duanwu Festival on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, near the solstice. The date is seen as unlucky, when snakes, centipedes, scorpions and other venomous critters emerge from their dens for the season. It's also the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, when elaborate ceremonies and feasts scare away those creatures and bring good luck. Stonehenge is among the best known ancient structures clearly designed around the solstice. From amid the five central stones, looking northeast across the embanked avenue, one can see the sun rise directly above the Heel Stone on the morning of the June solstice. In recent years the re-creation of this Bronze-Age tradition has drawn solstice-morning crowds of over 20,000 visitors from around the world. Here in northern Arizona, keep an eye out for local star-parties and solar events, including the annual Grand Canyon Star Party, held nightly on the grounds of the South Rim Visitor Center June 22-29.

To learn more about the sky, telescopes, or socialize with other amateur astronomers, visit us at or Facebook @PrescottAstronomyClub to find the next star party, Star Talk, or event. Adam England is a local insurance broker who moonlights as an amateur astronomer, writer, and interplanetary conquest consultant. Follow his rants and exploits on Twitter @AZSalesman or at

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