It's officially winter as the solstice makes Wednesday the shortest day of the year and shrouds the North Pole in complete darkness.
The winter solstice took place at 5:44 a.m. Eastern time when the North Pole was at its farthest point from the sun because of Earth's 23.5-degree tilt on its axis, said Live Science.
"The earliest people on Earth knew that the sun's path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year," said Deborah Byrd of EarthSky.org. "They built monuments such as Stonehenge in England – or, for example, at Machu Picchu in Peru – to follow the sun's yearly progress."
"But we today see the solstice differently. We can picture it from the vantage point of space. Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth's tilt on its axis, and its motion in orbit around the sun."
While the northern hemisphere is experiencing its shortest day of the year, countries in the southern hemisphere are experiencing their longest day, noted Live Science.
"Contrary to the all-too-popular notion that Earth is closer to the sun during summer and farther away during winter, seasons are not caused by the eccentricity of our planet's orbit," according to NASA. "Indeed, during the hottest days of northern summer the Earth is at its greatest distance from the sun.
"… Seasons in the two hemispheres are always reversed. When it is summer in New York, it is winter in Sydney. On a spring day in Paris, autumn leaves are falling in Argentina."
After Wednesday, the Earth begins to slowly tilt back, but temperatures don't improve because the northern mid-latitudes are only getting about nine hours of sunshine compared to 15 hours down south.
"In early December, true solar noon comes nearly 10 minutes earlier by the clock than it does at the solstice around Dec. 22," Byrd said on EarthSky.org. "With true noon coming later on the solstice, so will the sunrise and sunset times."
"It's this discrepancy between clock time and sun time that causes the northern hemisphere's earliest sunset and the southern hemisphere's earliest sunrise to precede the December solstice.
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