Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice, 2011

Caption: Snow even improves the look of a big set of stone blocks in the middle of a field. One of the reasons Stonehenge exists is to mark the coming of the Winter Solstice.

Image credit: English Heritage

Every other day of the year I'm an atheist, but one day each year brings out whatever pagan instincts I have:
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is located at 23.5° south of the equator and runs through Australia, Chile, southern Brazil, and northern South Africa. This year, the Northern Hemisphere solstice will occur at10:30 pm MST on December 21, 2011. For a complete listing of the dates of the winter and summer solstice's and spring and fall equinox's through 2020, check out this site from the U.S. Naval Observatory.

In astronomy, the solstice occurs at the moment the earth's tilt away from the sun is at a maximum. Therefore, on the day of the winter solstice, the sun appears at its lowest elevation with a noontime position that changes very little for several days before and after the winter solstice. In fact, the word solstice comes from Latin solstitium or sol (the sun) + -stit-, -stes (standing).

The Winter Solstice
Yes, once again, it's the Winter Solstice. Soon, the too-short days in my neck of the woods will start to get longer, and in a month or two, we'll be thinking about spring, which might include the idea of planting things, or might only include the idea that very soon we won't have to remember to bring extra clothing and tire chains on a trip. For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, at least, it's a day of hope and renewal.

Caption: Buds from the not-quite world famous Climate Change Cherry Tree, which is nature's way of telling us whether climate change is happening this year or not. Taken on February 20, 2011.

Image credit: Cujo359

So, whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice as Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Bodhi Day, Ramadan, or whatever, happy holidays.

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, just remember that you get your own version in six months, and enjoy your summer.

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