(NEWSnet) — Summer begins at 4:50 p.m. Thursday, a bit earlier than usual given that the astronomical alignment typically happens on June 21, which would be Friday.

The summer solstice occurs for Earth’s upper half when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted most closely toward the sun. This also marks the 24 hours that will see the most daylight of the year in that region. At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere experiences its winter solstice.

Equinoxes mark the start of spring and autumn seasons, and happen when Earth’s axis and orbit line up such that both hemispheres get an equal amount of sunlight. The vernal equinox, which was March 19 this year, is considered the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox, which will be Sept. 22 this year, is considered the start of fall.

The seasonal dates are slightly different this year because the timing of Earth’s orbit around the sun does not exactly line up with the timing of Earth’s rotation.

The solar year is precisely 365.242 days, said Nick Eakes, an astronomy educator at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. 2024 is one of the years on the Gregorian calendar that includes a leap day, a calculation that was designed to correct during specified years for the variations.

A side note: the meteorological calendar assigns the change of seasons to the start of the calendar months, so that summer using that metric began June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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