If you thought 2020 has felt longer than any other year, today will be a nightmare for you. Monday, December 21 is the Summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. This means it is the longest day and shortest night of the year.
The Summer solstice also marks the official beginning of summer. Because 2020 was a leap year, summer begins on December 21 instead of December 22 as it otherwise would.
Latin for ‘sun-stopping’, the solstice is the day where the Sun appears to rise and set, stop and reverse direction after this day.
The solstice and the seasons are determined by the particular tilt of the Earth in relation to the sun. In December, the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun and on the solstice particularly, the sun is farthest south in the southern hemisphere and directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. This means we are the closest to the Sun on this day.
During the Summer solstice, the sun travels its longest path through the sky and thus spends more time above the horizon and in full view than below the horizon. This means there is more daylight. As such, it is the longest day and the shortest night in the Southern Hemisphere.
According to Time and Date, the summer solstice will strike at 12.02pm in Cape Town, making this day four hours and 32 minutes longer than during the Winter solstice in June.
Australia, New Zealand, South America and Southern Africa will experience the same Summer solstice on December 21, whereas Northern Hemisphere countries and continents like North America, Central America, Europe, Asia and Northern Africa will have their Winter equinox.
If the Summer solstice isn’t special enough, the closest great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 800 years will also occur on December 21, making it appear as if they are almost touching in the sky.
The great conjunction of these two planets will be visible across the world, although the quality of visibility will differ depending on the night sky. In Cape Town, it should be visible at 8.20pm, according to Time and Date.