Strawberry Moon and Summer Solstice Meet

A strawberry Moon rising over Los Angeles in 2012 (credit: Pacheco at Flickr.com)

A strawberry Moon rising over Los Angeles in 2012 (credit: Pacheco at Flickr.com)

Today the Sun reaches the June solstice, its most northerly point on the celestial sphere. This marks the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the first day of winter in the southern hemisphere. And for the first time in 68 years, the June solstice occurs on the same day as the June full Moon, often called the Strawberry Moon.

The June solstice marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it has historically been a day of celebration to mark an abundance of light, fertility, and early harvest, especially for more northerly cultures which suffer through long periods of darkness in the winter. While it is the longest day of the year, it’s not necessarily the warmest because it takes the Earth some time to absorb and recirculate the abundant sunlight it receives near solstice. The warmest days of the year typically happen in mid July in the north.

Earth's northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun in northern summer. At the June solstice, the Sun is directly overhead at a latitude of 23.5N.

Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun in northern summer. At the June solstice, the Sun is directly overhead at a latitude of 23.5N.

The Earth’s axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5º relative to its orbit,  so at the June solstice, the Earth’ northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun. Observers at a latitude of 23.5ºN see the Sun directly overhead at June solstice, so there is no noontime shadow. From this latitude and south to the equator is called the Tropic of Cancer. At December solstice, which happens each year between December 20-22, the Earth’s southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, and the Sun lies directly overhead at a latitude of 23.5ºS. This latitude northward to the equator is the Tropic of Capricorn.

The June solstice officially occurs in 2016 on June 20 at 22:34 GMT.

By coincidence, for the first time in 68 years, the full Moon also occurs on the same day as the June solstice. In the northern hemisphere, the full Moon in June lies low over the southern horizon where it’s visible through thick and hazy air. The Moon’s color, and this time of year in which roses bloom and strawberries ripen, lend the name of Strawberry Moon, Honey Moon, and the Rose Moon to the full Moon of June.

What’s astronomically significant about summer beginning on the same day as the full Moon? Nothing, really. It’s just good luck. So enjoy this first day of summer in the northern hemisphere and look for the beautiful full Moon. And if you are beginning winter in the southern hemisphere, just remember that after today the days start getting longer.

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