winter solstice


noun Astronomy.

the solstice on or about December 21st that marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Origin of winter solstice

First recorded in 1625–35
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does winter solstice mean?

The winter solstice is the moment in the year when Earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it will be all year. The winter solstice results in the shortest day of the year, meaning it has the longest period of darkness.

The summer solstice is the moment in the year when Earth is tilted as close to the sun as it will be all year. The summer solstice results in the longest day of the year, meaning it has the most time of daylight.

One solstice occurs around June 20–22 (usually June 20 or 21) and one occurs around December 20–23 (usually December 21 or 22).

The solstices 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.

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.

Example: Many ancient cultures marked the winter solstice with festivals, some of which continue to be observed today.

Where does winter solstice come from?

The first records of the term winter solstice come from around the 1500s. Solstice is recorded earlier, 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 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 winter solstice, Earth is tilted away from the sun and receives sunlight for the shortest time, resulting in the shortest day of the year. 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. 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, these 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 winter solstice used in real life?

The winter solstice is most commonly observed as the shortest day of the year and a way to mark the changing of fall to winter.

 

 

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True or False?

The winter solstice happens on the same day in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

British Dictionary definitions for winter solstice

winter solstice

noun

the time at which the sun is at its southernmost point in the sky (northernmost point in the S hemisphere) appearing at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon. It occurs about December 22 (June 21 in the S hemisphere)
astronomy the point on the celestial sphere, opposite the summer solstice, at which the ecliptic is furthest south from the celestial equator. Right ascension: 18 hours; declination: –23.5°
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for winter solstice

winter solstice
[ wĭntər ]

See under solstice.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.