Today (Nov. 21) marks the winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Winter Solstice Tonight

The winter solstice occurs on Saturday at 5:11 p.m. at the point in the Earth’s orbit when it’s tilted so that the North Pole is at its farthest point from the sun. When that happens, it looks like the sun halts its orbit and reverses its track – from moving south to moving north.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and stit (stop).

It’s a commonly held belief that the winter solstice marks the start of winter, however that only holds true from an astronomical perspective. From a meteorological perspective, winter began on Dec. 1 and will culminate on Feb. 28. In astronomy, winter ends on the vernal equinox on March 20.

At England’s Stonehenge, an annual celebration on the winter solstice takes place. The Neolithic rock formation is thought by many to have been constructed for the purposes of observing astronomy and tracking the sun’s movement.

On Dec. 21, 2013 US inhabitants get just 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight. Days will increase in length through to the summer solstice on June 20.

– Chelsea Regan

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