NEW YORK — As people are running to complete holiday errands they may forget the winter solstice takes place this time of year.
The winter solstice takes place when the earth’s axis is furthest away from the sun, or at 23 degrees 26′. This day is the shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight.
In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place either Dec. 21 or 22, or when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed, therefore the winter solstice takes place either June 21 or 22.
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin solstitium, from sol, “sun” and -stitium, meaning “a stoppage.” That’s because during the solstice, the sun is in the lowest portion of the sky and its elevation at noontime seems to be unchanged for several days before and after the actual solstice.
At this point in the year the daytime is the shortest and the nighttime is the longest. The length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a minimum for the year.
Each day thereafter a little bit of extra daytime is gained until the summer solstice — the longest day of the year. Of course, these measurements are based on the actual daylight hours, not modifications made by Daylight Savings Time, which artificially extends daylight hours.
The winter solstice also marks the first “official” day of winter. This year it takes place Dec. 21 at 7:11 a.m. EST.