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solstitial

[ sol-stish-uhl, sohl- ]
/ sɒlˈstɪʃ əl, soʊl- /
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adjective

of or relating to a solstice or the solstices: a solstitial point.
occurring at or about the time of a solstice.
characteristic of the summer solstice.

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Origin of solstitial

1550–60; <Latin sōlstitiālis;see solstice, -al1
sol·sti·tial·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does solstitial mean?

Solstitial is an adjective that’s used to describe things related to the solstice or things that occur around the time of the solstice. A solstice is one of the two times of the year when the positioning and tilt of Earth relative to the sun results in the most amount of daylight time or the least amount of daylight time in a single day.

There are two solstices during the year: one that occurs around June 20–22 (usually June 20 or 21) and one that occurs around December 20–23 (usually December 21 or 22).

These solstitial points are traditionally considered to mark the start of summer and winter. But which season begins with each solstice depends on which hemisphere you’re in. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs in June and the winter solstice occurs in December. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite.

The summer solstice results in the longest day of the year, meaning it has the most time of daylight, and the winter solstice results in the shortest day of the year, meaning it has the longest period of darkness.

In contrast, an equinox is one of the two times of the year when the amount of daylight and nighttime hours are just about of equal length. The two equinoxes occur around March 20–21 and September 22–23. In the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox (or spring equinox) occurs in March and the autumnal equinox occurs in September. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite.

Solstitial is sometimes used in a more specific way to describe something that’s characteristic of the summer solstice, especially summer heat, as in The lush vegetation thrives in the solstitial conditions. 

Example: Many ancient cultures recognized and observed the solstitial points of the year as times that marked the change of the seasons.

Where does solstitial come from?

The first records of the word solstitial come from around the 1500s. It’s the adjective form of solstice, which is first recorded in the 1200s and ultimately derives from the Latin sōlstitium, which comes from the parts sōl, “sun,” and sistere, “to stand still.” This means that sōlstitium literally translates to something like “the standing still of the sun.”

During a solstice, it looks like the sun stands still. Of course, the sun doesn’t actually move in the way it appears to move when it rises, sets, or moves across the sky during the day—this is all due to the motion of Earth. A solstice is really the moment—one of the solstitial points when Earth is tilted as far away from or as close to the sun as it will be all year. This makes the sun appear to be at its farthest northern or southern position relative to Earth—appearing to be directly above either the tropic of Cancer or the tropic of Capricorn.

During the summer solstice, Earth is tilted toward the sun and receives sunlight for the longest time, resulting in the longest day of the year. During the winter solstice, Earth is tilted away from the sun and receives sunlight for the shortest time, resulting in the shortest day of the year. After the winter solstice, the days start getting longer (receiving more daylight hours). After the summer solstice, the days start getting shorter (receiving less daylight hours).

Technically speaking, a solstice is a moment, not an entire day. Since Earth is in motion, the exact positioning considered a solstice only happens for a moment. However, the word is most commonly used to refer to the day on which this happens. On most calendars, solstitial days are used to mark the beginning of summer and winter similar to how the days of the two equinoxes are used to mark the beginning of spring and fall.

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How is solstitial used in real life?

Solstitial is much less commonly used than the noun solstice. When it is used, it’s often in discussion of the summer solstice.

 

 

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The solstitial points are typically used to mark the beginning of spring and fall.

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