Published On: Fri, Jun 20th, 2014

Summer Solstice in Chichen Itza

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The summer solstice is the moment when the sun is directly shining down on the Tropic of Cancer, an imaginary line north of the equator. This is the longest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere and marks the beginning of summer. Because of the Earth’s tilt, this day marks the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. And also because of this tilt, we have seasons.

This year the summer solstice is today, June 21. This is the first day of astronomical summer and also the longest day of the year for people in the Northern Hemisphere. Washington, D.C., for example, will have nearly 15 hours of daylight.

So what’s actually happening in space?

The Earth rotates around the sun, always tilted on its axis at a 23.5 degree angle.

Because of this tilt, the latitudes of 23.5 North and 23.5 degrees South are important. The line at this latitude above the equator is called the Tropic of Cancer and below the equator is called the Tropic of Capricorn.

Our planet does not spin on a vertical axis. It is titled at 23.4 degrees

Our planet does not spin on a vertical axis. It is titled at 23.4 degrees

On Saturday morning, the Earth will be positioned so that the sun shines directly on the Tropic of Cancer, which crosses countries such as Mexico, China and India.

Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun on Saturday, so people there will experience the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year.

The opposite happens in December: The sun shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and the Southern Hemisphere experiences its summer solstice, while the Northern Hemisphere experiences its winter solstice (the shortest day of the year).

The word solstice comes from the Latin words for sun and to stand still. On Saturday, the sun will appear to stay at the same height in the sky as in the days before and after the solstice.

The biggest misconception about the summer solstice: People think the Earth is closer to the sun.

“We’re not actually closer to the sun,” said C. Alex Young, Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Division at NASA, in an interview with USA TODAY Network.

The solstices aren’t a result of the distance form the sun but the Earth’s axis tilting toward or away from the sun, he said.

Because of this tilt, we have seasons. In June, the Northern Hemisphere receives more energy, which is absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere and then “re-radiated over time” so we have summer, Young said.

“If Earth was just straight up and down, there would never be a winter or summer. It would be the same in the north and south,” Young said.

chichen itza during summer solstice

Chichen Itza’s “El Castillo” during summer solstice


“El Castillo”, the main pyramid at Chichen Itza is the star of an archaeoastronomical phenomenon once again, today Saturday 21, the day of the summer solstice, one half of the building is illuminated while the rest obscured.

For the Maya, this event announced the beginning of the seeds and fruits harvest period, marking also the longest day of the year.

Today June 21 it is indeed the longest day of the year, and this time it will last for 13 hours with 25 minutes, as the sun appeared above the horizon today at 6:18 and will set at 19:43 hours.

From the archaeo-astronomical point of view, various phenomena of light and shadow are recorded in several pre colombine Mayan cities; such as Dzibilchaltún and Chichen Itza, among others.

The archaeo-astronomical midsummer phenomenon of “El Castillo” at Chichen Itza was discovered in 1997, but it was not until June 21, 2007 when the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), gave it official recognition.

Today Saturday 21, after dawn, between 7:30 and 8:30 am, the North and East sides of the pyramid appeared fully illuminated, while the South and West phases remained dark.

This event demonstrates the almost perfect symmetry of  this prehispanic building, the precision and accuracy of this event every year demonstrates it is no coincidence, it was built with that intention; and this is also a clear sign of the great knowledge the Mayan had of Architecture and Astronomy.




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