Winter solstice, the 'shortest' day of the year, arrives Thursday

Mercury Retrograde And The Winter Solstice Intersect On Dec. 21 — Here's What That Means Scott Olson  Getty Images News  Getty Images

The Winter Solstice, which marks the start of the winter season, is the inspiration behind Thursday's Google Doodle.

This is because the tilt of the Earth's axis is least aligned with the sun, providing us with the least daylight of the year. It will tweet once a day with updates on the sunrise, sunset, and total amount of daylight hours. In the Northern Hemisphere, we see the sun take its lowest and shortest path across the southern sky, and at local noon, your shadow will be the longest of the year.

EVERY year the longest and shortest days are marked by a solstice when people celebrate the astronomical phenomenon by watching the sun rise.

To explain the variation, EarthSky.org uses the example of NY and St. Augustine, Fla. The solstice is actually a moment in time - this year at 11:28 a.m.

Let's clear the record: The winter solstice marks the shortest daylight period in the Northern Hemisphere. In China, the Dongzhi Festival embraces the darkness with one last feast of the year.

He said there were over 100 people who won a ticket to witness this morning's solstice and they had come from across Europe and further afield.

December 21 also marks the first day of astronomical winter - although meteorological winter began December 1.

"For thousands of years people built structures to track the changing position of the sun, and of course the solstices were some of the most notable dates because the sun would reach its extreme north or south positions before reversing course for the next six months", Schneider says.

Winter solstice has been celebrated for hundreds of years in Britain, pre-dating Christianity.

The very orientation of the prehistoric Stonehenge standing stones in the United Kingdom is along a solstice axis, with a sightline pointing to the December solstice sunset.

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