At that moment, the Earth's axis will tilt the Northern Hemisphere at its largest angle away from the sun, according to Pamela McCown, coordinator at the A-B Tech Institute for Climate Education.
Today and tomorrow will have the shortest daylight hours of 2011 in Western North Carolina, with each day having just under 9 hours and 45 minutes of sunlight, notes McCown. After the solstice, "we will gain precious daylight each day as the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere begins to pick up more sunlight on our yearly trek around the sun," she wrote in a recent email, adding: "You can understand why our ancestors would celebrate the return of the sun in late December with festivals that would last for days, even weeks."
By the summer solstice in June, Asheville sees 14 hours and 34 minutes of daylight, notes McCown.
"For many of us, the winter solstice passes almost unnoticed thanks to modern conveniences like electricity and cars with headlights," she observes. "But these are relatively new technologies that allow us to function through the long hours of darkness that occur this time of the year. Past generations were much more aware of the changing seasons because the lack of natural light had a significant impact on one’s ability to be productive."
McCown adds: "I encourage you to take time over the next couple of days to notice where the sunrise and sunset occur on the horizon. This is as far south as the sun will appear to us, and the difference between where the sun rises and sets in December, and where it rises and sets well to the north in June, is truly amazing."
Click here to watch a short video that shows how the light projected on to the Earth from the sun changes throughout the year. (The video was produced using a series of images taken by the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites).