Winter Solstice: 5 facts you need to know as Google Doodle marks the shortest day of the year

Today is the shortest day and the longest night of 2015

Kate Ng
Tuesday 22 December 2015 09:21
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Thousands gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice
Thousands gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice

22 December, 2015, is the shortest day of the year in most time zones, which means missing out on any daylight hours due to being in the office.

Google is marking the day with an animated Doodle on its homepage, showing a pair of ice skaters circling the logo inside a snow globe.

Here are 5 things you may not have known about the Winter Solstice.

It’s not an all-day event

People who do celebrate the Winter Solstice often celebrate the whole day, but in reality, the solstice occurs specifically when the sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude where the sun can sit directly overhead, and its northern equivalent is the Tropic of Cancer.

That means it’s already happened

According to Greenwich Mean Time.com, the Winter Solstice occurred at 04:48GMT. However, the time of occurrence varies year to year, so next year the solstice will be at 10:45GMT, and the year after will be 16:29GMT.

The sun stands still

The word ‘solstice’ is derived from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, which loosely translated means ‘the sun stands still’. This is because the sun appears to ‘pause’ once it reaches the lowest point in the sky as seen from earth.

The earliest sunset isn’t today’s

For most places in the Northern Hemisphere, the earliest sunset happened a few days ago, while the latest sunrise is yet to come. This is because how we measure time with watches is different to measuring time using a sundial.

Australians mark winter solstice with nude swim in Derwent River

Monuments dedicated to the winter solstice in the UK

The world-famous prehistoric monument Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, is precisely aligned on a sight-line that points to the Winter Solstice sunset. It is believed this solstice is more important to the people who erected the monument than the summer solstice.

Newgrange in Country Meath, Ireland, and Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland, are other megalithic monuments with solar alignments, although these two face the winter solstice sunrise.

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