Summer solstice 2022: Thousands greet longest day at ancient Stonehenge monument

Thousands of pagans and revelers flocked to Stonehenge on Tuesday to welcome the summer solstice of 2022, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer.

About 6,000 people gathered at the ancient monument, located in Wiltshire in southern England, to witness the sunrise at 4:49 a.m. local time, according to Wiltshire Police. It was the first time people have been allowed to gather for the solstice since 2019. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sunrise was streamed online in both 2020 and 2021.

Some historians point to Stonehenge, a stone circle monument built between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago, as evidence that humans once used the June solstice as a way to organize their calendars and start counting the days of the year.

Experts still debate its purpose, but it’s aligned so that, on the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone, and rays of sunlight are channeled into the center of the circle.

"The sarsen stones, put up in at the center of the site in about 2500 B.C., were carefully aligned to line up with the movements of the sun," explained English Heritage, a charity organization that cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites. "The whole layout of Stonehenge is therefore positioned in relation to the solstices, or the extreme limits of the sun’s movement."

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People gather for sunrise at Stonehenge, on June 21, 2022, in Wiltshire, England. The summer solstice occurs on June 21st, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

The summer solstice officially occurred at 5:14 a.m. EDT, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. In the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice marks the beginning of winter.

Video shared by attendee Ricky Parbery showed the pre-solstice sunset and the atmosphere at Stonehenge. Parbery said it was "such a fun time."

English Heritage site manager Heather Sebire told the BBC that it was "fantastic" to finally welcome people back to Stonehenge. 

"There are people who are modern-day druids and pagan groups who treat this as a place of worship," Sebire told the news network.

Summer solstice significance

The sun doesn’t rise and set at the same locations on the horizon each day due to Earth’s tilted axis. Its rise and set positions move northward or southward in the sky as our planet travels around the sun throughout the year. 

As the Farmer’s Almanac explains, the summer solstice occurs when Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt — about 23.5 degrees — toward the sun.

This results in the longest "day," meaning the longest period of sunlight hours.

"The June solstice is significant because the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky at this time, at which point the Sun’s path does not change for a brief period of time," the Farmer’s Almanac explains.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.