WATE 6 On Your Side staff – KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Winter begins late Monday night. The winter solstice marks the date when nights are longest and days are shortest in the Northern Hemisphere.
First day of astronomical winter
In the Northern Hemisphere, the December Solstice also marks the start of the winter season. Winter ends on the March equinox.
For meteorologists, winter began three weeks ago on December 1.
Meteorological versus astronomical winter, what's the difference?
Most people celebrate the whole day as the December Solstice, however the solstice happens at a very specific time when the North Pole is tilted furthest (23.5 degrees) away from the sun and directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In Knoxville the winter solstice is at 11:40 p.m. Monday, December 21, 2015.
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.
For a complete listing of the dates of the winter and summer solstice's and spring and fall equinox's through 2020, check out this site from the U.S. Naval Observatory.
The time after the winter solstice also marks the lengthening of days.
"By New Years Day we will have 11 more minutes of daylight than today," said WATE 6 Storm Team Chief Meteorologist Matt Hinkin. "A month from now we are talking about 40 minutes more day light."
Matt Hinkin said there will be longer and longer days until the summer solstice, which is the first day of summer and also the longest day of the year.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the December solstice is opposite. It marks the longest day of the year. The sun will be directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn and is closer to the horizon than any other year.
Meaning of solstice
The Latin word for sun is sol. Solstice means standing still.
"The suns appears to be standing still as it reaches it's southern most point in orbit," said Matt Hinkin.
Each year visitors from around the world gather at Stonehenge. The ancient ruins are carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset.