Winter solstice 2018: What is it; when does it happen; Stonehenge connection

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Get ready, Friday night is going to be a long one.

Friday marks the winter solstice, so, because of the tilt of the Earth, we will see the least amount of sunlight on Friday, making the night the longest of the year.

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What’s a solstice and why is the day going to drag on, you ask? Here are six things to know about the longest night of the year.

1. What is a winter solstice?

The winter solstice (solstice is Latin for “sun standing still”) happens at the same time for everyone on Earth. It represents the exact moment when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun.

2. Why is this night any longer than any other night?

The night is longer because you will see the fewest hours of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere today as the earth hits its farthest tipping point. The sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, with more sunlight seen in the Southern Hemisphere.

3. Is the winter solstice celebrated?

It sure is, and has been for centuries. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, just days after the solstice, and many believe the date of Dec. 25 was chosen to overshadow the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti, according to timeanddate.com.

The word “Yule” -- used to describe the Christmas season -- is believed to have come from the Norse word “jol” which referred to the winter solstice festival. Wiccans celebrate Alban Arthan – or the rebirth of the Sun God. Today, celebrations are set for Poland, Pakistan, Iran and Guatemala, among other places around the world. 

4. Is the solstice always on Dec. 21?

Technically, the solstice can happen any day between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23 because the calendars we use aren’t the same length as a solar year. The 2018 solstice happens on Friday at 4:23 p.m. ET

5. When is the shortest night of the year?

The summer solstice happens in June. Take the winter solstice explanation and flip it – Northern Hemisphere tilted toward the sun, longer days, shorter nights.

6. What does Stonehenge have to do with it?

Stonehenge is an ancient monument in England that is often mentioned in the same breath as the winter solstice. Some say the monument, which dates to between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings.

Others, say it’s a landmark for visits from space aliens.

The only thing that is known for sure about the structure -- built without the aid of cranes or computers -- is that it sits perfectly along a straight line with sunrise on the winter solstice.

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Stonehenge

Matt Cardy
AMESBURY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22: People walk around the outside of the stones as druids, pagans and revellers gather in the centre of Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a winter solstice ceremony at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury on December 22, 2015 in Wiltshire, England. Despite a forecast for rain, a large crowd gathered at the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument, to celebrate the sunrise closest to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The event is claimed to be more important in the pagan calendar than the summer solstice, because it marks the 're-birth' of the Sun for the New Year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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