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Desert Diary
Climate/Winter Solstice


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Winter solstice—the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Because the axis of the Earth is tilted in relation to its path around the sun, our hours of daylight vary greatly depending on the time of year and on where we are on the planet. In addition to the shorter days around the solstice, the sun also stays lower in the sky. In El Paso, it only reaches to about 75 degrees above the horizon, while in June, it climbs to almost 83 degrees. In the southern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, the sun is always higher than in more northerly parts. In June, it can reach almost 90 degrees—essentially straight overhead.

Early settlers knew the importance of constructing their homes so as to allow the low, wintertime sun to enter the south-facing windows, supplying free warmth, while a protruding roof or inset of a window shaded the interior from the higher, hot, summer sun.
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Contributor: Peter Golding, Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.