Astro Bob Blog: Happy solstice! Time to get in touch with your primitive selfAs I write this, the winter solstice is just over an hour away. At 11:47 a.m. Central time Monday we exchange autumn for winter. The days have shortened and the nights lengthened in the extreme since the first kiss of summer.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
The sun shines through a layer of clouds Monday morning. The darker flecks are snowflakes. Photo: Bob King
As I write this, the winter solstice is just over an hour away. At 11:47 a.m. Central time Monday we exchange autumn for winter. The days have shortened and the nights lengthened in the extreme since the first kiss of summer. After today, it all goes in reverse, but oh so slowly. Nights shorten barely at all in the next couple weeks and the sun will still arc across the daytime sky like a ball pitched low and inside. During this time, sunrise and sunset times hardly budge. Coupled with the long nights, it finally sinks in that winter is here.
Celebrate the longest night of the year by building a fire. I was eager to warm up this house this morning so I re-stoked the fire in the woodstove. Photo: Bob King
We make our peace with the darkness in many ways: by embracing the night as sky watchers, taking to the ski trails and hills, sitting by the fire or throwing a solstice party. This temporary "standing still" of light and sunshine is literally the meaning of the word solstice. Cultures throughout history have celebrated the first day of winter, not so much because they loved the season, but because you could only go up from here. They built big fires, created solstice alignments with wood and stone and partied till dawn to mark this important seasonal transition.
Starting tomorrow, the sun will trudge its way upward again, moving northward in the direction of summer. At the same time, days begin to lengthen. This all happens very slowly at first. Most of us don't notice an increase in daylight until around the middle of January when we'll be driving home from work or doing the dishes after dinner and suddenly realize that the evenings are getting brighter.
During the course of a year, the Earth's axial tip causes the hemispheres to angle toward and away from the sun changing the length of daylight and the height of the sun in the sky. Credit: Tau'olunga
The seasons come about because of the tip of Earth's axis. As we revolve around the sun each year, the hemispheres alternately face toward, are flush to and then tipped away from the sun. The northern hemisphere is tipped toward the sun in summer which causes the sun to describe a very high path in the sky. Old Sol is not only up for many hours but it beams down on us more directly, pumping heat into oceans, air and ground. During winter, we're tipped away, and the sun's lower path and more indirect light cause the temperature to drop and precipitation to turn to snow.
Feel like celebrating the return of the light with other souls tonight? Why not come to the Winter Solstice Gathering at the Two Harbors lighthouse, located just off Hwy. 61 about 20 miles north of Duluth? It starts at 5:30 p.m. this evening (Monday) and features a big bonfire, drumming, snacks, hot drinks and telescope observing if the sky's clear. Since the forecast looks good we'll get great views of the moon right alongside Jupiter. Embrace both the night and the light. See you there!