TODAY is the shortest day of the year, which is known as the December winter solstice.
But what does this mean for the length of our days and nights? Here we take a closer look.
When is the shortest day of the year in 2018?
The shortest day of 2018 falls on December 21, today.
This is known as the winter solstice, marking the day of the year with the fewest sunlight hours.
The word solstice literally means, in Latin, that the sun is standing still.
That’s because it marks the point when the sun’s seasonal movement stops for a day, before it reverses and the amount of sunlight starts to change again.
When will the sun rise and set on the winter solstice?
The sunrise across the UK will happen at around 8.03am on Friday, December 21.
It will set at 3.53pm, meaning there will be less than eight hours daylight.
However, after today the number of hours of daylight will increase each day.
Is December 21 the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere?
December 21 marks our winter solstice, but it’s the summer solstice if you head beneath the equator.
In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are flipped compared to ours.
That means December, January and February are the height of summer in countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
So the December 21 solstice falls in the middle of their summer, while the June solstice is their winter.
What’s the difference between a solstice and an equinox?
Although they both relate to a similar thing, there is a big difference between an equinox and a solstice.
While a solstice represents either a longest or shortest day, the equinox falls on the days where day and night are the same length.
This happens twice a year, midway between the summer and winter solstices, on March 21 and September 23.
These are referred to as the spring and fall equinox, marking the start of the seasons in the astrological calendar.
MORE ON SPECIAL DAYS IN THE CALENDAR
Is the solstice on the same day every year?
The solstice always falls between December 19 and 22.
Most years, it falls on the 21st in the UK, but sometimes it lands a little bit off-kilter, because it takes the Earth 365 and a quarter days to go around the sun.
This extra quarter day is why we add a day to the calendar every four years with a leap year – to stop the dates drifting gradually through the seasons.
For the same reason, solstices and equinoxes are not always on the same day every year.