Winter Solstice

Since early times, people have observed the Suns path across the sky. The Stonehenge and other monuments were created to follow its progress. Today we understand it as an astronomical event.

Two solstices (“sun stands still”) occur per year.  During these solstices (around December 22nd and June 21st), the sun appears to halt and change directions, although it’s actually due to the rotation of the Earth on its tilted axis circling the sun.  In the Northern hemisphere, we experience our shortest day during the winter solstice, whereas the Southern hemisphere experiences their longest day.  During the Spring and Fall Equinox (around March 21st and September 23rd), the earth’s equator passes the center of the Sun, so the day and nights are approximately the same all over the world. Our changing seasons are due to the Earth’s tilted momentum around the Sun.

During our winter solstice the North Pole is tilted the furthest (23.5 degrees) away from the sun.  At this angle, the Sun appears to travel across the sky in a low arc resulting in our longest noontime shadows of the year.  While we are now losing approximately one minute of daylight per day, after December 21st, we will start gaining those minutes back.

Prior to science study, imagine the fear when it appeared the Sun was slowly fading away; then all the excitement when it grew brighter once again. Many spiritual and cultural traditions were formed to celebrate this seasonal milestone, many world-wide ancient traditions continuing today.

Over the centuries, we have tracked time using various devices from the sundial relying on shadows to our current atomic clock system, calibrated by the astronomical time scale.  Then we started adjusting the clock a bit with Day Light Savings Time (DST), which ended last month.  Overnight, we lost another sixty minutes of evening light when we set our clocks back. DST was first implemented by Germany in an effort to save coal during World War I.  Soon other countries followed suit. After the war, many countries reverted back to standard time until World War II.  In the United States, DST was extended to a period of ten months in 1974 and eight months in 1975 in an effort to save energy following the 1973 oil embargo.  Introduced through the 2005 Energy Policy Act, DST is now observed for about seven months each year starting on the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November.  I apparently have to leave my clock alone for now.  I’m so glad the winter solstice is here! More daylight minutes will slowly grow into hours!

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