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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Get ready for the longest day of the year

Summer solstice has been observed since the time of the ancient Maya civilization.

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Sunset at the Mayan Observatory (El Caracol) in the ruins of Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico. Photo: Getty

Yucatán says goodbye spring and hello summer solstice, just as it has since antiquity.

The northern hemisphere’s solstice is Sunday, June 20, at 9:32 p.m., and it will be the longest day — and conversely the shortest night — of the year.

This is also when the earth’s tilt toward from the sun is at a maximum. So on Sunday, the sun appears at its highest elevation with a noontime position that changes very little for several days. The sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, at 23.5 degrees latitude north, and runs through Mexico, the Bahamas, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, and southern China. 

The astronomical observatory in Mayapán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

This astronomical phenomenon was observed by Maya, explained Daniel Flores Gutiérrez, a researcher at UNAM’s Institute of Astronomy.

“In Mesoamerican antiquity, there were different bodies of the celestial vault with which the inhabitants were guided: the moon, Venus and the sun, with the entirety of this day well identified.”

He indicated that the Castillo pyramid in Mayapán, a Mayan site in Yucatán, is oriented in such a way that the projection of its profile on one of its four stairs occurs during the solstice.

“The movement of the summer and winter solstices was followed because they were events that indicated to the sages that the counting of the calendar days was on the right track,” said Flores Gutiérrez.

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