Sunday, June 21, 2015

Education : Summer solstice, science & traditions

Matosinhos/Porto, Portugal
credits : Onda Pura

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."

Steve Martin

Ah, summer! The season of surfing, swimming, relaxing, and lazy days in the sun arrives this Sunday, June 21, the summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere.

Today marks the beginning of the year’s sweetest season, a time of hot days, short nights, and soaking up the sun: the Summer Solstice. People love it !

The June solstice is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice the Southern Hemisphere. The date varies between June 20 and June 22.


Google celebrates Summer solstice and winter solstice (Brazil) with two doodles by the guest artist Kirsten Lepore

Google doodles 2015

What is Solstice? 

It’s an astronomical event that creates the longest day of the year in one of the two hemispheres. 

Today, the Earth’s northern half will be bathed in light for the greatest percentage of a single day. Giving us all a good excuse to stay outside for another hour. Or two. Or until the fireflies come out!

Solstice' (Latin: 'solstitium') means ‘sun stands still' because the point where the sun appears to rise and set, stops and reverses direction after this day.

This year it’s taking place on Sunday 21st June. The sun is expected to rise at 4:25am.

Weather forecasters are predicting a warm weekend with temperature highs of 24C. And it's true. Since Friday we have in Portugal more than 30c. Wow! Difficult to dit in front of the computer. Not in Brazil, of course !

Stonehenge UK
credits: PA


Summer solstice, also called 'midsummer', has long been recognized and often celebrated by many cultures. 

It links to many ancient cultural practices as different cultures have celebrated it being symbolic of renewal, fertility and harvest.

Egyptians built the Great Pyramids so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between two of the pyramids on the summer solstice. 

The Inca of South America celebrated the corresponding winter solstice with a ceremony called Inti Raymi, which included food offerings and sacrifices of animals, and maybe even people.

Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory in a long-buried Maya city in Guatemala, in which the buildings were designed to align with the sun during the solstices. During such times, the city's populace gathered at the observatory to watch as their king appeared to command the heavens.

But the perhaps the most famously, Stonehenge in the UK has been associated with the winter and summer solstices for about 5,000 years.

Every year, hundreds of pagans and non-pagans congregate at Stonehenge to see the sun rise in the morning and welcome in the summer.

Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with it’s neighbour Avebury. Some pagans and druids perform a fire ritual to celebrate the occasion. This involves people with unlit candles forming a circle around a large lit central candle and lighting theirs off it one at a time.

Awed by the great power of the sun, civilizations have for centuries celebrated the first day of summer otherwise known as the Summer Solstice, Midsummer - Shakespeare Midsummer Night's Dream - St. John's Day, or the Wiccan Litha.

The Celts & Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing & bonfires to help increase the sun's energy. 

The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.

In Sweden, it’s traditional to eat your way through the entire day. Feasts typically involve lots of potatoes and herring. 

summer solstice
credits: NASA


The Earth spins on an axis tilted 23.5 degrees from the Earth's orbit around the sun.

As a result, the most direct sunlight shifts between a band of latitudes of the Earth throughout the year, providing the change of seasons we know in the middle and higher latitudes.

On June 21 at noon, the sun will be directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, a line of latitude located at 23.5 degrees north of the equator.

During the summer, the northern hemisphere receives the most direct sunlight because it's tilted toward the sun.
Think of the summer solstice as the exact moment each year when the North Pole is most directly oriented toward the sun. According to NASA, the North Pole receives 30 percent more incoming solar radiation than the equator on the solstice.

The sun will be at its highest point in the sky at noon on June 21 for areas north of the Tropic of Cancer. Those locations will experience their greatest amount of daylight of any day this year.

source: NASA


"Astronomy has been important to people for thousands of years. The ancient construction known as Stonehenge in England may have been designed, among other purposes, to pay special honor to the solstices and equinoxes. These are the times and locations during Earth's journey around the Sun that we humans have long used to mark our seasons."


It's a pity. European schools (primary, elementary education) are enjoying summer holiday.

Only high junior schools/ lycées (secondary education) and universities are on  exams season.

So teachers can't explain all about summer solstice, but students, if they are curious, they will be excited to learn about.

After Summer holiday, teachers and students will discuss their experiences and knowledge about summer solstice when winter solstice will come on December.

Curricula: Cross-curricular: Geography; History; Sciences; Languages (traditions, literature).

Level : All levels.

Teachers must consider the activities to every level or curriculum they are teaching.


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