Showing posts with label Solstice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Solstice. Show all posts

Monday, June 21, 2010

Longest Day and Shortest Night

This year I greet the longest day well-prepared and without frustration thanks to a splendid illustration I managed to find on the website of the Yohkoh Outreach Project, an organization jointly sponsored by Montana State University and Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab. The site of the source is here. My frustrations arise (as earlier noted here) because my viscera really believe that the earth stands still and the sun moves. With this temperament, the usual explanation of an earth tilted on its axis tracing an elliptical path around a sun—and thus producing the seasons and the longs and shorts of days and nights—causes me bewilderment, vexation, and a sort of dizziness. I look at all the diagrams and can’t make heads or tails of them, because I’m looking at it all as from a spaceship, but actually I’m down here on the surface of the globe, right by the shores of Lake St. Claire. Yohko Outreach Project to the rescue. They’ve produced this simple, straightforward chart.

They’ve even put me in the center of it—see? And this chart, which shows the position of the sun as I would see it, from my own backyard, makes the solstices and the equinoxes crystal clear. The sun never dips lower to the south than at the Winter Solstice. After that day it rises daily to a slightly higher point in the sky. Thus the sun seems to be in motion, not only side to side, as from dawn to dusk, but also from the Winter Solstice up to the Summer Solstice. And it never goes higher than it does today. Tomorrow it reverses its course.

The name of this day, solstice, comes from the Latin for sun, sol, and sistere, to stand still. Its upward movement stands still today and reverses direction tomorrow. And it shall stand still again on December 21 and begin to rise again. Exactly in the middle of that process we have the equinoxes, coming and going. At the Winter Solstice we have the longest night, today the shortest, and in the middle night and day have the same length: equi nox.

Deep sigh of relief. Thank you Yohkoh Outreach Project. If only more of humanity would follow your example and do good things for the needy and the ignorant. It would be a better world. Now there must be at least a dozen people like me out there who’ll get something out of this post. So enroll me, too, on the side of the angels.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Equinocturnal Frustrations

Welcome Spring and so forth. I note that the weather, which cooperated magnificently for about the last two weeks of so-called Winter, refuses to smile today. It’s gray out there, cool, and humid. The weather perhaps shares my frustration at six month intervals when it’s time, once again, to celebrate the equinox. I understand this thing perfectly well in conceptual terms. The sun today is directly above the equator, straight up there in the perpendicular. As time now advances, that angle will become more and more acute, the sun appearing north of the equator until the summer solstice on June 21st. After that, back we go again, the angle increasing until the arrival in September—on the 23rd of that month this year—of the autumnal equinox. Thereafter the angle becomes obtuse (from our point of vantage), the sun beaming south of the equator to the delight of all Patagonians until December 21, the blessed winter solstice. Then it marches back again to March of 2011. I do get all this. Yes. But I can’t picture it properly. It’s all due to the earth’s tilted axis, isn’t it, which puts us now closer to the sun and now removes us farther away in wintertime. Every season—it’s amazing, actually, how this sort of thing fades from memory in six months’ time—I end up getting my ice-pick and an apple, and actually doing a kind of dance around a lamp holding the ice-pick at an angle until my geometrically dense brain finally gets it again. With that comes a moment of satisfaction, but the juices of frustration that came before—while trying to find good visuals on the Internet—linger long enough in my body to yield…well, a post “celebrating” the Vernal Equinox.