Antarctica's Summer Solstice. A Natural Phenomenon of the Earth's Maximum Tilt. - Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions

Antarctica's Summer Solstice. A Natural Phenomenon of the Earth's Maximum Tilt.

If you’ve ever explored the wonderful world of science and atmospheric phenomenon you know about the winter solstice (midwinter, yule, the longest night, jó) which is also Antarctica’s summer solstice. The northern hemisphere’s winter solstice is meant to astronomically mark the beginning of longer days and shorter nights and has long provided excellent opportunity for cultures to celebrate a new beginning. Antarctica’s summer solstice marks the time when the side of Earth tilted toward the sun is in constant sunlight. This means it’s high summer for the southernmost point on Earth, Antarctica. Our planetary seasons are affected by the tilt of the Earth, and this is no different, just a little more extreme at the poles.

Everywhere within the Antarctic Circle, there is at least twenty-four hours of continuous daylight during the summer solstice in December and at least twenty-four hours of continuous darkness during the winter solstice in June. Because Earth orbits at 23.5 degrees the Northern and Southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the direct light of the sun. The tilt of the Earth – not our distance from the sun – is what causes winter and summer.

Antarctica’s South Pole experiences two seasons, approximately six months of darkness (winter) and six months of daylight (summer) with one sunrise and sunset per year. (More on that here) The sun rises in September and sets in March. During the Antarctic summer the daylight is dangerously sunny and sunglasses are required to be worn at all times. To get an idea of what our planet looks like during the winter solstice take a look at the EarthView image below as a dynamic view of our planet’s two equal halves. Note the solstice is a moment in time, not a day like most people celebrate.


The December solstice is on the 22nd, 2019 at 04:19 UTC, which is December 21st for much of North America. (You can translate that to your local time with the calculator) We’ll be celebrating on the ice at 1:19 a.m. Chilean time, December 22nd.  During the solstice the sun will be the farthest south it ever gets throughout the year. That means all locations south of the equator have longer days, longer daylight hours, and 24 hour sun in the Antarctic Circle. Midnight soccer game anyone?

While 2019 is coming to a close, for many the December solstice marks the height of the season, when the population swells with seasonal workers, scientists and others working on the continent. It is a time of long days, celebration and traditions unique to Antarctica including icy polar plunges.

Here are a few fun facts about the solstice:

  • At the December solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that the sun stays below the North Pole horizon. As seen from 23 1/2 degrees south of the equator, at the imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun shines directly overhead at noon.
  • Some confuse the solstice with the equinox. Both occur twice a year, but the equinox occurs when the sun is directly above the equator, day and night are equal in length, and the equinox marks the beginnings of fall and spring, depending on the hemisphere.
  • During the solstice, whether it is summer or winter solstice, the sun isn’t moving – it’s actually the earth tilting to and away from the sun.
  • Although winter solstice marks the beginning of the astrological winter, the coldest winter days are yet to come, often not for a month or even two in some years.
  • The December Solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, though December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303
  • The Solstice is actually at a specific moment – when the Sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

Here’s a quick look at solstice times. The chart shown below shows the dates and times for the spring and fall equinox and summer and winter solstices through 2020. Times listed are in UTC. Refer to EarthSky.Org to translate this to your own time zone here.

While those in the northern hemisphere will celebrate the winter solstice, those living in the southern hemisphere will be simultaneously marking the summer solstice. Many experience a trip of a lifetime in Antarctica, and this is another occasion to mark the passing of a year around the sun.


The ALE team is no stranger to celebrating on the ice and just a few days after the summer solstice, guests and team members will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to camp. Whether it’s dressing up as an elf, a visit from Santa Claus, freshly baked pastries and cookies, or a champagne toast, it’s a special way to acknowledge a bucket-list trip. Many around the world celebrate Christmas day and enjoy recognizing the festivities in Antarctica, if for nothing more than a commonality among nationalities, cultures and languages.

* © Paul-Henry de Baère/Apache Productions

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