Following the Sun and Moon
Thursday, June 20, is Midsummer’s Night, the shortest night of the year, with barely nine hours of darkness. Then, at 1:04am Friday, the sun reaches its northernmost position above the earth, marking the astronomical beginning of summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere. It is our longest day, with more than 14 hours 54 minutes of sunlight.
In Latin solstice means sun stand still, and like a pendulum at its apex, the sun appears to pause, rising and setting at almost the same time and hovering just as high at midday the next few days.
Earth rotates on a 231⁄2-degree axis, and that is the highest point from the equator, north or south, that the sun can climb. On the day of summer solstice, the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude.
While the sun is at its highest this week, the opposite is the case for the moon, which arcs low through southern skies. June’s full moon is early Sunday morning. Look at it now, and you’re seeing the path of the low-hanging winter sun six months hence. Where the sun is now is where you’ll find the full moon in December.
June’s full moon, commonly called the Strawberry Moon, the Mead Moon and the Honey Moon, also happens to be the year’s full moon closest to Earth. That earns it the newly coined title of Super Moon. At perigee, this moon is roughly seven percent larger than usual and 12 percent larger than the moon at apogee, its farthest from Earth. But that’s not why it looks larger. The truth behind Supermoon is actually its closeness to the horizon, where it appears to dwarf our earthly visual markers.