You might think of the solstice as a day, but it’s really a moment. The December solstice happens at 16:28 UTC on December 21, 2017. That time – the moment of solstice – marks the sun’s southernmost point in our sky for this year. Here in North America, the solstice happens in the morning hours on December 21 (11:28 a.m. EST, 10:28 a.m. CST, 9:28 a.m. MST, 8:28 a.m. PST, 7:28 a.m. Alaskan Time and 6:28 a.m. Hawaiian Time). When is the moment of solstice for your location? Translate 16:28 UTC to your time zone, here.
Looking at the world map below, you can see that the 2017 December solstice happens when it’s sunset in Africa, sunrise in northwestern North America and the Pacific Ocean, noontime in South America and midnight in China.
On the December solstice, we celebrate the (unofficial) first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Unofficial? Yes. Winter and summer start at the solstices by tradition, not official decree.
Yet these solstices bring very real occurrences to our sky, which you can witness for yourself. In both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the December solstice brings the southernmost sunrise and the southernmost sunset of the year. If you stand in one spot day after day, week after week – for example, gazing out a particular window toward the sunrise or sunset on the horizon – you will surely notice the sunset’s northward trek along the horizon over the coming months. From time to time, try fixing a bit of tape to your window, on which you’ve written the date, to help you mark the sun’s passage.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the southernmost sunrise and sunset usher in the year’s shortest day and the longest night. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the exact opposite, for the year’s southernmost sunrise and sunset give the Southern Hemisphere its longest day and shortest night.
Not everyplace worldwide has a sunrise and a sunset on the day of the December solstice. North of the Arctic Circle – or north of 66.5o north latitude – there is no sunrise or sunset today, because the sun stays beneath the horizon all day long. South of the Antarctic Circle – at 66.5o south of the equator – you won’t see a sunrise or sunset either, because the sun stays above the horizon all day.
After the sun reaches its southernmost point on the sky’s dome on the December solstice, watch as the sun seems to pause for a number of days before it starts its northward trajectory on the sky’s dome once again.
Bottom line: In 2017, the December solstice comes on December 21 at 10:28 a.m. CST. That’s December 21 at 16:28 UTC. It’s when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. Happy solstice, everyone!