The longest day – Summer Solstice 21st June 2011

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June 21st, 2011 is Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year.

This is the time when the Sun is at its highest or most northerly point in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere and when we receive the most hours of daylight. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere it is the reverse, so you will be having “Winter Solstice.”

Also known as “Midsummer” the Summer Solstice gets its name from the Latin for sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The Sun reaches its most Northerly point and momentarily stands still before starting its journey South in the sky again until it reaches its most Southerly point “Winter Solstice”, before repeating the cycle. This is basically how we get our seasons.

It’s not actually the Sun that moves North or South over the seasons although it may appear so. It’s the Earths axial tilt that causes the Sun to change position in the sky as the Earth orbits the Sun throughout the year.

Why Are There Seasons
The angle of the Sun and the Earth's seasons. Image credit: NASA

Summer Solstice/ Midsummer is steeped in ancient folklore especially in Northern Europe with the most famous place directly related to it being Stonehenge, where the sun has been worshiped for thousands of years.

Stonehenge Credit: bistrochic.net

The Sun reaches its most Northerly point in the sky at 17:16 UTC momentarily and from that point forward starts to make its way South. This means the days will get shorter and shorter until Winter Solstice in December.

Which Planet Has The Longest Day?

Mariner 10's Venus. Image: NASA

Just to be clear, this answer to ‘which planet has the longest day’ is based on this criteria: a planets day is how long it takes it to complete one rotation on its axis. This is also referred to as its rotational period. So, Venus has the longest day of any planet in our solar system. It completes one rotation every 243 Earth days. Its day lasts longer than its orbit. It orbits the Sun every 224.65 Earth days, so a day is nearly 20 Earth days longer than its year.

Length Of A Day On The Planets In Our Solar System

Mercury: 58 days and 15 hours
Venus: 243 days
Mars: 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds
Jupiter: 9.9 hours
Saturn: 10 hours 45 minutes 45 seconds, but can only be approximated because of atmospheric density.
Uranus: 17 hours, 14 minutes and 24 seconds
Neptune: 16 hours, 6 minutes and 36 seconds, but it is a bit more complicated than that. The equator and poles rotate at different speeds. You would have to do more research on the planet to fully understand the varying day on Neptune.

Now, back to why the Venusian day is longer than its year. Venus is closer to the Sun; therefore, its orbit takes a shorter period of time than its rotation upon its axis. The planet also rotates in retrograde. That means it spins in the opposite direction of the Earth. If you were standing on Venus, you could see the Sun rise in the West and set in the East.

A manned Venus flyby mission was proposed in the late 1960s. The mission was planned to launch in late October or early November 1973, and would have used a Saturn V rocket to send three men. The flight would have lasted approximately one year. The spacecraft would have passed approximately 5,000 km from the surface about four months into the flight. There have been several unmanned probes and flybys of the planet, including MESSENGER and the Venus Express. Future proposed missions include the BepiColombo, Venus InSitu Explorer, and the Venera-D.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here are some interesting facts about planet Venus, and here are some pictures of planet Venus.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.