A Salute To Summer On Today’s Solstice

The sun breaks over the horizon on an earlier summer solstice morning. Bob King

I’ve been building an ever-rising brush pile in my backyard. Each day the stack climbs a little higher just the like sun’s been doing since the first day of winter. Today at 10:54 a.m. (Central Time) it tops out at its highest point in the sky when its rays are most direct and the day expands to its greatest length.

Earth’s axis maintains a 23.5° tilt as it orbits the sun, but the planet’s changing position in orbit causes the axis to point toward, away and sideways to the sun during the year. The northern hemisphere is tipped fully toward the sun on the solstice, the reason the sun appears high in the sky. Six months later at the winter solstice, the northern hemisphere is tilted away, making the sun drop low in the sky. Sonoma University with additions by the author

All that luscious daylight. So much time to get things done. Or at least feel like I should get things done. My favorite part of the abundant light is summer are the evening twilights. I love how long dusk lasts. And after a hot day it feels just right to kick along the dirt road, thumbs hooked over the flaps of my front pockets, meandering and smelling the flowery air.

Like this rollercoaster in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the sun reaches peak height in the summertime then rides the slope downward to fall and winter. The roller-coaster arc the sun follows is called the ecliptic. Wikipedia with additions by the author

Some people (like me) will remind you that it’s all downhill after the solstice. Where else is there to go after the sun god has arrived at the pinnacle of the sky? Down, down, down. Starting at 10:55 a.m. today it will ease every so slowly over the top of the hump, like a roller coaster ready to pitch down an incline, and start its downward descent. But instead of plunging, the sun’s schleps along, taking six whole months to slide to the bottom of its yearly track. But sure as disappearing daylight, it has no other direction to go the moment it’s finished with its solstice high.

Because of Earth’s tilted axis the sun swings high and low along the ecliptic, its path across the sky. The ecliptic intersects the celestial equator (red line) on the first days of spring and fall. On the summer solstice, the sun (yellow circle) stands 23.5° north of the celestial equator. On winter solstice, it’s 23.5° below it. Durham University Community

The yearly up and down bobbing of the sun is caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis. No tilt, no bobbing. Our axis is tipped 23.5°, so the sun appears as high as 23.5 degrees above the celestial equator (the imaginary extension of Earth’s equator into the sky) in summer and 23.5° below the equator in the winter. You can picture the celestial equator as an arc cutting midway across the southern sky from much of the U.S.

On the summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and shines directly down over the landscape. It rises early, spends many hours above the horizon and sets late. Short days and long-slanted solar rays characterize the time of winter solstice in December (right). Bob King

Now imagine if Earth’s axis were tipped 50° instead. From mid-northern latitudes, say in Chicago, the sun would lie 50° below the celestial equator and never rise above the horizon around the time of winter solstice. Around the time of summer solstice it would move beyond the overhead point and stand high in the northern sky. The new solar extremes would lead to a more extreme climate for the Windy City. The opposite would be true if Earth’s axis had 0° tip. The sun would keep the same path across the sky every day of the year, faithfully tracking along the celestial equator — Chicagoans would experience an eternal spring.

A pollen halo and unrelated “snow” from fluffy seeds including dandelions and poplar trees surrounds the sun in this photo taken a couple years back. Bob King

I salute summer for its long days, abundant life and sensual delights. One aspect of that abundance is the number of hairy and fluffy seeds flying through the air this time of year. Many are from dandelions and area trees. Using a tree trunk to block the blazing sun yesterday, I couldn’t believe my eyes at the virtual snowstorm of fluffy seeds flying by. Absolutely mesmerizing. If you do this, never look directly at the sun. Hide it with a tree branch or roofline, focus the binoculars into the distance near the sun to see the hurried flight of life.




8 Responses

  1. kevan hubbard

    My solstice special event was spying noccullient clouds to the north and I even managed a picture on my phone.i saw them from the village of Kings Sutton,Northamptonshire, England and it’s just over the 52nd parallel.last year I saw them, similar time of year,but from much further north from the beach in Seaton Carew, Co Durham, England about 54.6 .I’m working on nacrous clouds,the lower relatives of noccullient clouds,seems Antarctica is the place for them….the only continent I’ve not set foot on! although they do appear over the artic but not as often.plus you’d have to be in the artic or Antarctic in the winter and endure the cruel cold.

    1. astrobob

      Nice! I’m still waiting for my first view this summer. Nothing yet (though I missed a night they were out because of being in the wrong place.)

      1. kevan hubbard

        Noccullient clouds, and I’d guess nacrous too,are erratic and unpredictable.i suppose that the best way to increase your chances are to get as far north,or south if you’re in Australia!,as possible and hope for the best.unlike auroura I don’t think any method exists to predict noccullient and nacrous clouds and they still don’t really know how they form.

        1. astrobob

          Yes, very unlike aurora. At least I know that if someone in northern Michigan sees the aurora, I will. Noctilucent clouds are more local with no guarantees.

  2. Benjie Duke

    Mr Bob,I have sent this to two other people, neither have replied. I know the extinction of the dinosaurs was from an asteroid strike. If you think I’m wrong, tell me. Or you want to debate it, I would love to. Or any questions.
    But I really think I’m on to something here.
    If a meteor makes it to the surface of the planet. It is over for life on the planet. It penetrated a hole in the atmosphere. Like a hole in the outerwall of a spaceship in outer space. Except that hole is just going to open up and suck all the water on the planet into space. What took millions of years to develop is gone in minutes. That was what happened to the dinosaurs, except it was large enough to bring more of a particular element to change the molecular structure from dinosaurs to what we are today.
    All the water banished from the planet. The remains of the atmosphere falls padding the earth surface at least 1,000 feet deep with earth, aka dirt. The crater in Arizona was made while the earth had no atmosphere. That asteroid was searching for a final resting place. But not this planet it was just a dramatic change in course. The fossil fuel found 1,800 feet below the ocean floor in the deepwater horizon well. Meaning the atmosphere remains covered the earth evenly an average 1,400 ft, rough estimate, depending on hills and valleys.
    What happens to that padding, I’m guessing is that it petrifies It covers the grand canyons and petrifies into grand canyons. I say I’m guessing according to the evidence. Meaning I want to debate it. But I don’t know if that even happens anymore. I’m very excited, because I think this is huge. It’s just that all the dirt, sand,and especially rocks on earth are petrified. Except the asteroid itself, because it is bigger than 1,400 ft, ought to be, to deliver that special element. Surely with the technology today we can determine a petrified rock from a real rock. Being that all the petrified ones are the same age. What I’m excited about. Is that if I had a farm I would bet it’s Stone Mountain. Because, look at it, it sure looks like one. It has no jagged edges like a potato rock, which has been in running water. Well it hasn’t been in running water. It is the only potato rock sticking up 600 ft with no dirt on it in the world. You know that is just a tip of it. I know it sounds crazy. But the Sierra domes are petrified replicas of a huge asteroid that broke into large pieces the size of those domes. They call them domes, look like mountains to me. No telling how far down beneath them, the original asteroids lies.
    All the sets of craters on the moon from the same projectory. Are Marks between life cycles on earth. And no adjacent or close together craters can be from the same projectory. There are a hole lot of craters on that moon. And 99% of them came from pieces of an asteroid that splashed into the earth’s atmosphere, which killed the planet. Mars is a life sustaining planet. Because it has no craters, but hills and valleys. Meaning it has had water on it. It’s just that it’s atmosphere is under development at this time.
    Mr Bob please reply, I have a few questions, that I’m pretty sure lead to answers. I need to chat with someone with your expertise.

    1. astrobob

      Thank you for writing. I appreciate your enthusiasm but there are a few basic errors in your understanding of meteor / meteorite phenomena. When a space rock plunges through our atmosphere, the air, being a gas, quickly fills the space behind it. No hole is left. This is a basic property of a gas. When a meteorite penetrates a hull, it leaves a hole because metal is a solid — no additional metal from the edges expands to cover the hole. Also, while the asteroid that led to the demise of the dinosaurs did cause serious damage, it could not possibly remove all the Earth’s water and water vapor. There is no evidence of that. And the atmosphere cannot fall to ground like dirt or become dirt. It is not a solid but a gas. Here is a link where you can learn more about the basic states of matter: https://www.chem.purdue.edu/gchelp/atoms/states.html

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