Following the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, we can look forward to longer days ahead for the next six months. That's a nice thought to have on cold winter nights.
Why is it called winter solstice? The origin of the word comes from the Latin "solstitium," which means sun stoppage. The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky and seems to stay in the same place at high noon for several days before and after Dec. 21 (or 22).
The exact time of the solstice was 3:11 a.m. on Dec. 21, when the north pole was at its maximum tilt away from the sun.
The sun entered the sign of Capricorn to mark the official start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of summer in the Southern Hemisphere (where it is the longest day of the year and the south pole is fully exposed to the sun for a moment).
Good news for the Northern Hemisphere too: summer lasts five days longer than in the southern part, and the Southern Hemisphere experiences five more days of winter than the north. This occurs because of the earth's tilt and ecliptic orbit.
The earth is also closer to the sun now than it was six months ago, although three million miles isn't much of a distance when you consider all of space.
The beginning of spring in 2013, called the vernal equinox, occurs at 4:02 a.m. on March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere.
For more fun facts visit earthsky.org.
Get the latest news from San Mateo:
- Sign up for the San Mateo Patch daily newsletter
- Blog for San Mateo Patch
- "Like" San Mateo Patch on Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter @SanMateoPatch