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UPDATED: Summer Solstice Includes a Moon Rarity for Portland, Oregon, the Coast

Published 06/15/2016 at 8:51 PM PDT - Updated 06/15/2016 at 9:01 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Photo: sunset in Yachats

(Portland, Oregon) – It's not only the longest day of the year, but it's the official start of summer. Around Oregon – including the coast and Portland – the official turn into summer happens at 3:34 p.m. on June 20. (Photo: sunset in Yachats).

This is the summer solstice, according to OMSI's Jim Todd, when the Earth is tilted so that the north pole is at its closest point to the sun. Todd added another fun science fact: the Earth will be at its farthest distance from the sun, called aphelion, on July 5.

On top of it all, there's a rare combination of events on the Summer Solstice day: the Full Moon appears on the same night as the June Solstice. A full moon only occurs on the same night as a solstice about once every 15 years. The last time this occurred was in 1986 and 1948.

Todd said because of the summer solstice there will be more minutes of sunlight in the northern hemisphere than there are at any other time of the year.

Todd said the word “solstice” is derived from the Latin sol-stitium, for sun-standing.

“The summer solstice is the time of the year when the sun stops its northern climb and stands briefly before turning back toward the equator,” he said. “As seen from Portland, the sun will reach its highest northern point in the sky at 67.54 degrees from the horizon on June 20 and 21 at approximately 1:12 p.m. From March 21 until September 24, there are more hours of daylight than darkness. After June 21, the days will gradually grow shorter until December 21, the winter solstice.”

A curious fact for those on the Oregon coast that summer solstice day: the sun actually goes down a few minutes later there than in Portland. Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff measured the difference at seven minutes. Since sundown times are listed with a flat horizon in mind, places like Portland will see the actual sunset a few minutes earlier than is listed in the almanacs because of high spots like the west hills or the coast range.

On the beaches, it's even later than that, however.

Not everybody is celebrating, however. Todd said that far to the south of Oregon, across the equator, winter has arrived. For people in the southern hemisphere, June 20th, will be the shortest day of the year. It also means the beginning of their winter.

With that lunar rarity happening on the same night, there's more to see after dark.

Todd said that full moon will reach its highest point this month, due south. Despite being at its highest in the sky, viewers in Portland (1:06 a.m. on June 20 or 1:57 a.m. on June 21) may struggle to see it, as it is very low 25 degrees in the sky. In fact the full moon nearest the summer solstice (June 20 or 21) is the lowest full moon of the year.

“Plus, notice the champagne color as it rises from the east,” Todd said.

The reason for this, Todd said, is that during the summer months, the moon tends to sit low on the horizon. This makes it farther away from you than when it's directly overhead, forcing the light to travel through more atmosphere. This breaks down the color bands within the light, causing them to bend and get tossed out – mainly the blues, greens and purples. Todd said the strong light waves that do make it are red, yellow and orange, the colors with the longest wavelengths.

It gets even more intriguing, in the astronomical sense. Todd said that since full moons occur when the moon is directly opposite the sun, you can imagine the two as sitting on either sides of a celestial see-saw: on the day when the sun is highest in the middle of the day (in summer), the moon is at its lowest high point at midnight; and on the day when the sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in winter), the moon is at its highest high point at midnight. The highest for December is when the moon will be more than 68 degrees above the southern horizon. Compare this to June when the moon barely grazes 25 degrees above the southern horizon. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour


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