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Winter solstice 2016: When is the shortest day of the year and how long is it?

Solstice officially happens when the sun is over the Tropic of Capricorn

Will Worley
Monday 19 December 2016 12:48 GMT
Winter solstice 2016: Five things to know

The Winter solstice will soon be upon us.

The day - on Wednesday - marks the shortest day of the year before the days slowly begin to draw out again.

It occurs because this is when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the Sun – specifically -23.5 degrees outwards.

While the entire day is typically considered solstice, scientists can actually measure the precise moment it occurs. When the sun is directly over the line marking the Tropic of Capricorn – the latitude stretching across the southern hemisphere – solstice occurs.

This will happen at 10.44am in the UK.

Daylight on Wednesday will last just seven hours, 49 minutes and 41 seconds – almost nine hours less than the year’s longest day in the summer.

However, in regions to the north of the Arctic Circle, the winter days have no sunlight at all.

Usually, the solstice falls on the 21st, but the time can vary each year, due to the slight discrepancy between the time that we use and the solar time - a variation which is rectified every four years, when a leap year occurs and we get an extra day on the calendar.

This is the reason Winter solstice in 2015 took place on 22 December.

Ancient civilisations in the UK and abroad have marked the solstices as significant events throughout history, and these ancient traditions will be brought back to life at Stonehenge during the solstice, when druids and pagans converge on the monument to mark the shortest day.

Despite being built thousands of years ago, Stonehenge was designed to align with the point of the sunset on the Winter solstice. It was around this time that animals were slaughtered and alcoholic drinks like wine and beer finished fermenting, resulting in a celebration before winter set in.

For the day of the solstice only, admission to the Stonehenge site will be free, allowing the druids and spectators to conduct their observances freely.

In the words of Arthur Pendragon, chief of the British druids and self-proclaimed reincarnation of King Arthur, the solstice is the most important day of the year, as it welcomes in the new sun.

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