The Summer Solstice: Celebrated Through the Ages

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Revelers celebrate the summer solstice on Salisbury Plain in southern England on June 21, 2014. Stonehenge is a venue for festivities during the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and it attracts thousands of revelers, spiritualists and tourists. Druids, a pagan religious order dating back to Celtic Britain, believe Stonehenge was a center of spiritualism more than 2,000 years ago. Kieran Doherty/Reuters

This Sunday is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and one that has long been important to different cultures across the globe. Its observance dates back to pagan Europe, and even today pagans gather at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, for a fire ceremony. In New York, the iconic Coney Island Mermaid Parade is partially a celebration of the event.

The summer solstice, which occurs in late June, is when the sun reaches its full height, directly over the Tropic of Cancer, and is farthest from the equator. While the event is widely enjoyed by the general public, it can be irritating for astronomers, according to a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, Jacqueline Faherty, who communicated via email.

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A reveller creates bubbles as she celebrates the summer solstice on Salisbury Plain in southern England June 21, 2014. Kieran Doherty/Reuters

"In our modern times, the summer solstice marks our realization that the days are long and our chance to be outside enjoying warm days can extend after work hours end. From an astronomical point of view, the summer solstice marks a difficult day as it offers the least amount of dark time for observing the cosmos," Faherty said. "For astronomers, it's a day we wish we were in the Southern Hemisphere where the winter solstice is occurring and the night is as long as it can possibly get."

The Summer Solstice: Celebrated Through the Ages | World