Summer solstice marks a beginning for ancient cultures

Today it marks the beginning of astronomical summer but the summer solstice began many ancient calendars.

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The Sun reaches the highest point in the northern hemisphere sky on the day of the June solstice.
Tony Rice
, NASA Ambassador

The June solstice arrives today at 5:44 pm EDT marking the beginning of astronomical summer here in the northern hemisphere. For about 12% of world's population living in the southern hemisphere, it's the beginning of astronomical winter.

The solstice marked the beginning of the new year in some ancient Greek calendars and began the countdown to the Olympic games the following month.

Ancient Romans marked the time with the religious festival Vestalia, honoring Vesta, goddess of the hearth. It was the one time of the year that women could visit the temple of Vesta to leave offerings in exchange for a blessing to their family.

China continues a tradition of eating noodles at each solstice. Cold noodles are chosen to beat the summer heat. Long noodles are chosen to mark the longer daylight hours.

Pagans in Europe celebrated the time as Midsummer, with bonfires to give power to the Sun as the days grow shorter.

Though scholars disagree of the purpose of the 5,000-year-old monument in southern England, the massive stones which make up Stonehenge are aligned to the winter and summer solstices.

On the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone, seen as the entrance to the Stone Circle. Sunlight streams to the center of the monument.

Crowds of 10,000 or more typically gather at the site on the solstices, one of the rare times it is open for public access.

This year, English Heritage, the charity which manages historic monuments, buildings and sites around the United Kingdom, has moved celebrations at Stonehenge online. You can watch sunset on June 20 at 4:26 pm EDT (21:26 BST) and sunrise at 11:52 pm EDT (June 21 04:52 BST) on the English Heritage Facebook page.  Each broadcast begins 45 minutes before the event.


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