The Winter Solstice
In astronomy, the solstice is either of the two times a year when the sun is
at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, the great circle on the
celestial sphere that is on the same plane as the earth's equator. In the northern
hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs either December 21 or 22, when the sun
shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn; the summer solstice occurs either
June 21 or 22, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Cancer. In
the southern hemisphere, the winter and summer solstices are reversed.
The reason for the different seasons at opposite times of the year in the two
hemispheres is that while the earth rotates about the sun, it also spins on
its axis, which is tilted some 23.5 degrees towards the plane of its rotation.
Because of this tilt, the northern hemisphere receives less direct sunlight
(creating winter) while the southern hemisphere receives more direct sunlight
(creating summer). As the earth continues its orbit the hemisphere that is angled
closest to the sun changes and the seasons are reversed.
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears
to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin
of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, "sun"
and -stitium, "a stoppage." Following the winter solstice, the days
begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.
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