December 21st, 2012

Winter solstice: NASA sets us straight

[Bumped up.]

Today will not be the end of the world, NASA assures us on its website.

Thanks, NASA, we needed that.

It is, however, the end of one Mayan long-count calendar cycle and the beginning of a new one, for all the Mayans among us.

And it also is the winter solstice:

The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north (Arctic Polar Circle) are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south (Antarctic Polar Circle) receive 24 hours of daylight.

That explains why I’ve long been confused about the date of the solstice: it floats around. And here I thought I was just being absent-minded.

Today the weather befits the occasion, dark and gloomy and rainy all up and down the northeast. Even though it’s still nominally daytime, it hardly looks it.

I’ve always looked forward to the day’s getting longer as compensation for the temperature getting colder, and this year is no exception. And I think it no accident that both Christmas and Chanukah are festivals of light.

7 Responses to “Winter solstice: NASA sets us straight”

  1. carl in atlanta Says:

    An inherently powerful event when you think about it (at least in the northern hemisphere).

    At some point during our development human beings must have feared that the ever-shortening hours of daylight might continue to shorten without end. On a primal, animal level that’s got to be worrying, depressing.

    Eons later, what a relief it still is to see (feel? anticipate?) that first day that’s perceptibly just a bit longer than the one before. Add a couple more days to that first one and you start feeling really good about things again; it’s a great feeling to have one’s primal faith in the cycle of the seasons reaffirmed each year. It’s the very best time of year to celebrate because everyone feels “in sync” with nature and hopeful.

    I suppose the same applies to the June 21 +/- solstice in the Southern Hemisphere?

  2. Sam L. Says:

    It’s ended for me.

  3. Steve D Says:

    ‘And it also is the winter solstice’
    It is also my anniversary. Considering the Mayan prediction, I decided to get a gift for my wife anyway, just in case the world doesn’t end today.
    Though the ancients could determine the actual day of the solstice, the first day that they could actually MEASURE an increase in day length was usually December 25, which is why this the day of the Saturnalia (father time). The ancients were divided as to whether or not they would celebrate the 25th or the actual day of the solstice. The Roman celebration of the Saturnalia came from earlier nonclassical traditions which also celebrated the 25th instead of the 21st.
    ‘And I think it no accident that both Christmas and Chanukah are festivals of light.’
    I agree.

  4. rickl Says:

    There’s five hours left, so I’m still holding out hope.

  5. Brian Swisher Says:

    How about some celebratory <a href="; Jethro Tull?

  6. parker Says:

    We have hosted a winter solstice party for our immediate neighbors over the last 22 years. The last guests crunched their way home through the snow about an hour ago. For me, the winter solstice is a turning of the tide. The darkness begins to recede tomorrow. Spring is coming despite the looming cold of January and the chilly dampness and mud of February and March. Spring is coming. Inside the cold frame, covered over night with several ragged blankets to protect against the -5 expected tonight; spinach, lettuce, and arugula grow. Tomorrow we will have fresh salad.

    You have to live life for yourself, thats all you can do: Celebrate life, mourn death when you must, but otherwise celebrate life.

  7. rickl Says:

    Still here. Well, good morning, everybody.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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