Gilmer Free Press
Stargazing - 06.20.12
Today is the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the start of the summer season.
The solstice occurs at 7:09 PM EDT, when the Sun reaches its northernmost point for the year.
For most of the modern world, the summer solstice is just another day on the calendar. Although it’s the longest day of the year, we generally don’t plan anything special to commemorate it.
That wasn’t the case in centuries past, though. In many cultures, the summer solstice was one of the most important days of the year — a time to come together in celebration. These cultures often set up Sun-watching stations to let them know when the solstice was at hand. A site in Egypt, for example, dates to before the time of the pharaohs. And one in northern New Mexico required the Sun-watcher to climb to a small niche in a mountaintop.
Another Sun-watching site may have been discovered in England. It’s not far from the city of Manchester, and it’s part of a complex known as Gardom’s Edge.
The site was inhabited as early as 4,000 years ago. It consists of cultivated fields, a few houses, and an enclosure where clans may have come together. It also includes a seven-foot triangular rock pillar that may have been aligned to the solstice.
The pillar appears to have been carefully prepared and aligned. It’s angled so that the northern side receives full sunlight only around the solstice. Researchers say that may indicate the marker was erected to give the gathering place extra significance — a symbol of the long, prosperous days of summer.
And this summer begins today, at 7:09 PM Eastern Time — just another day on the modern calendar.