StonehengeHooray!  It’s here!  Today is the shortest day of the year.

For those of us here in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.

After the winter solstice, the days start getting longer and the nights start getting shorter. It’s a seasonal shift that you’ll start noticing soon, when it start staying light later.

The winter solstice happens at the same moment in time for everyone on the planet, but our clocks will say different times.

In 2011, the December solstice takes place on Wednesday, December 21 at 11:30 p.m. CST (Thursday, December 22 at 5:30 UTC). That means that here at our East Coast Blippitt headquarters, Winter Solstice 2011 will actually occur at 12:30 a.m. EST on Thursday, December 22.

In fact, this year, all time zones to the east of the Central Standard Time will experience the winter solstice on Thursday, December 22.

The earliest human beings were aware that the sun’s path across the sky (the length of daylight) and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular, predictable way throughout the course of the year. They built monuments, such as Stonehenge, to follow the sun’s journey across the sky.

At Stonehenge in England on the day of the winter solstice, people watch as the sun sets in the middle of three giant stones, known as the Trilithon, consisting of two huge upright stones supporting a third horizontal stone placed across the top.

This great Trilithon faces outward from the center of the monument, with its smooth flat face turned toward the midwinter sun. As it turns out, the primary axes of Stonehenge seems to have been meticulously aligned on a sight-line pointing to the sunset on the winter solstice.

The Stonehenge monument, which is believed to have been built in 3,000 to 2,000 B.C., shows how closely our ancestors studied the sun. Stonehenge is likely the most famous of of the ancient astronomical monuments found anywhere on Earth.

So enjoy the winter solstice…and here’s to longer days soon to come!