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The Summer Solstice Has Arrived!

The Summer Solstice Has Arrived!

This year’s summer solstice for the northern hemisphere arrives at 11:54 a.m. EDT, meaning today is the longest day of the year! The number of daylight hours varies by latitude, so our headquarters in Washington, D.C. will see 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 51 seconds of daylight. A lot can happen in that time! Let’s find out more.

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If you’re spending the day outside, you might be in the path of our Earth Science Satellite Fleet (ESSF)! The fleet, made up of over a dozen Earth observation satellites, will pass over the continental United States about 37 times during today’s daylight hours. 

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These missions collect data on atmospheric chemistry and composition, cloud cover, ocean levels, climate, ecosystem dynamics, precipitation, and glacial movement, among other things. They aim to do everything from predicting extreme weather to helping informing the public and decision makers with the environment through GPS and imaging. Today, their sensors will send back over 200 gigabytes (GB) of data back to the ground by sunset. 

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As the sun sets today, the International Space Station (ISS) will be completing its 10th orbit since sunrise. In that time, a little more than 1 terabyte-worth of data will be downlinked to Earth.

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That number encompasses data from ground communications, payloads, experiments, and control and navigation signals for the station. Approximately 330 GB of that TB is video, including live broadcasts and downlinks with news outlets. But as recently-returned astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor likes to point out, there’s still room for fun. The astronauts aboard the ISS can request YouTube videos or movies for what she likes to call “family movie night.”

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Astronauts aboard the station also send back images—LOTS of them. Last year, astronauts sent back an average of 66,912 images per month! During today’s long hours of daylight, we expect the crew to send back about 656 images. But with Expedition 59 astronauts David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Anne McClain (NASA), and Oleg Kononenko (RKA) hard at work preparing to return to Earth on Monday, that number might be a little less. 

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Say you’re feeling left out after seeing the family dinners and want to join the crew. Would you have enough daylight to travel to the ISS and back on the longest day of the year? Yes, but only if you’re speedy enough, and plan your launch just right. With the current fastest launch-to-docking time of about six hours, you could complete two-and-a-half flights to the ISS today between sunrise and sunset.

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When returning from orbit, it’s a longer ordeal. After the Expedition 59 trio arrives on Earth Monday night, they’ll have to travel from Kazakhstan to Houston to begin their post-flight activities. Their journey should take about 18 hours and 30 minutes, just a few hours longer than the hours of daylight we’ll see today.

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Happy solstice! Make sure to tune in with us on Monday night for live coverage of the return of Expedition 59. Until then, enjoy the longest day of the year!

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