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Summer solstice: Everything you want to know

Summer solstice: Summer arrives to the Northern Hemisphere at 1:16pm Eastern time on Tuesday.

By Joe RaoSPACE.com Skywatching Columnist / June 21, 2011

People attend the annual summer solstice at the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, southern England June 21, 2010.

Kieran Doherty/Reuters

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The summer solstice shouldn't come as a surprise. It arrives at pretty much the same time every year. But some of the little-known facts behind and surrounding the solstice are fascinating. First, the basics:

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Summer in the Northern Hemisphere will officially arrive on Tuesday (June 21) at 1:16 p.m. EDT (17:16 Universal Time ): the June solstice. At the same time, winter officially begins for the Southern Hemisphere.

At that moment, the sun will reach the point where it is farthest north of the celestial equator. To be more precise, when the summer solstice occurs, the sun will appear to be shining directly overhead at a point on the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5 degrees north) in the Great Bahama Bank, roughly halfway between Andros Island and central Cuba. [Gallery: Stunning Summer Solstice Photos]

Extreme daylight

From no point in the contiguous 48 United States can the sun appear directly overhead. From New York, for instance, at 12:57 p.m. Eastern Time, the sun will attain its highest point in the sky for this entire year, standing 73 degrees above the southern horizon or about four-fifths of the way up from the horizon to the point directly overhead.

And since the sun will appear to describe such a high arc across the sky, the duration of daylight is now at its most extreme. In fact, north of the Arctic Circle, which encompasses northern Alaska, far-northern Canada, much of Greenland as well as the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, the sun now remains above the horizon for an entire 24-hour day, leading to the effect known as the "midnight sun."

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