Summer Solstice 2021: when is longest day of the year, meaning explained, and what happens at Stonehenge?

English Heritage pulled a live feed of the sunrise at Stonehenge after people ignored advice not to travel to the site

Summer has finally arrived in the UK, with Brits now basking in hot temperatures after weeks of cold and rainy weather.

The start of the sunny season is officially marked by the summer solstice, otherwise known as the longest day of the year, which signals the start of brighter evenings.

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Many people visit Stonehenge on the summer solstice to see the sun rise (Photo: Getty Images)
Many people visit Stonehenge on the summer solstice to see the sun rise (Photo: Getty Images)

Here’s what you need to know about the summer solstice and how it was celebrated this year

When is the longest day of the year in 2021?

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice - also known as midsummer - takes place between 20 and 22 June every year, when the sun travels along its northernmost path in the sky.

This year, the solstice falls on Monday 21 June, when the UK will enjoy 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising at around 4.45am and setting at 9.26pm.

The solstice occurs on the same date as what was planned to be the end of all lockdown restrictions in England, although the roadmap has now been delayed by four weeks until 19 July.

The delay comes following concerns about the rapidly-spread Delta Covid-19 variant, which has prompted a rise in infections in recent weeks.

What happens during the summer solstice?

The summer solstice takes place when the Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt toward the sun and is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

This results in the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year, and marks the beginning of the astronomical summer, which ends with the autumn equinox on 22 September.

The day signals the moment the sun’s path stops moving northward in the sky, with the days gradually becoming shorter afterwards as we move towards winter.

However, the days won’t become noticeably shorter for a while, with the shortest day of the year not due until Monday 21 December, known as the winter solstice.

There are two solstices each year, with one occurring in the winter and the other in the summer.

During the winter solstice, the Earth's axis is tilted furthest away from the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn bringing only a few hours of daylight.

In the southern hemisphere the dates of the two solstices are reversed, with the winter solstice occurring on the same day in June and the summer solstice the same day in December.

How is the summer solstice celebrated?

Historically, the summer solstice used to take place between the planting and harvesting of crops, giving people who worked on the land time to relax.

This is also the reason many people would traditionally get married in June, and why it is still a popular month for weddings.

The summer solstice has inspired many festivals and midsummer celebrations over the years, with people lighting bonfires, having picnics, watching the sun rise and Maypole dancing.

Many people also visit Stonehenge on the summer solstice to see the sun rise at the heritage site. The rising sun only reaches the middle of the stones on one day of the year, when it shines on the central altar.

The summer solstice event at Stonehenge was originally due to go ahead this year, but people were asked not to travel to the site after the government announced a delay to the lifting of restrictions in England.

Normally, up to 30,000 people would gather to watch the sun rise over the stones on the longest day of the year but it was changed to a virtual event for the second consecutive year, with English Heritage calling on people to watch their live-streams.

However, the live feed was pulled after people disregarded advice not to travel to the site, with video from the scene showing around a hundred people inside the stone circle and a banner reading “Standing for Stonehenge”.

English Heritage said safety reasons were behind the lack of an available live feed of the neolithic Wiltshire monument at sunrise at 4.52am. Thousands of people tuned in to English Heritage’s Facebook and YouTube pages for the solstice and saw pre-recorded footage of the stones, with the feed returning at around 5am showing largely cloudy skies.

Apologising for the outage, host Ed Shires said: “I must say we have been disappointed that a number of people have chosen to disregard our request to not travel to the stones this morning and that is the reason why we haven’t been able to bring you the pictures that we would have liked to have done.

“It is disappointing to see that happen but unfortunately in those kind of situations we have to put the safety of our staff members first and that’s why we have had some interruption this morning.

“We have been told by police that people have now been dispersed and the situation is under control.”

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