It occurred around 9:45am this morning local time, and the darkness was very noticeable, but as the drizzle coated everything wet, spirits were high becuase this is the day of renewal: the winter Solstice. I pay special attention to this day because of its significance as a turning point in the year. I should also point out that I am not a religious person, but a person of reality who looks beyond fiction to see what is really there – and I see the magic of the universe in physics. The Earth has a tilt of 23.5 degrees on a elliptical orbit, with an orbital eccentricity of 0.017, which means that we get four extra days of summer compared to the Southern hemisphere, and our winters are equally shorter. Because of this tilling effect along the celestial equator, we get the seasons.
The significance of today is that from here on in the days will gradually get longer. For us who live in the Northern climates, this is a good thing becuase knowing that the cold and drizzly weather will be gone in about three months makes the hope and happiness of a new beginning something tangible to hold onto while it pours buckets outside, or a dump of snow occurs.
I remember asking my father why, if winter started on December 21, how come winter didn’t start when the days actually started getting shorter instead of now when the cycle was half over? He was unable to actuality answer this question, but he gave it a shot. He said, “Bureaucracy – when they were hashing out the calendar and fitting in all the days and months, trying to make everyone happy, other countries were getting cold weather later than the countries closer to the equator, so they compromised.” he said. For a very long time I bought that story. I was corrected in my beliefs during a high school science lesson on time and the seasons, when the teacher used a fancy model of the Solar System with a light bulb for the Sun that showed physically what was going on. Seeing the process in a model made the difference in fully understanding what was going on and how it all worked.
Of course, the reason for winter starting on the solstice is something called seasonal drag. Two things happen when the Earth tilts away from the Sun. First, the rays from the Sun slowly start to cover more surface area of the Earth, and as a result the energy is spread out wider on the ground. Second, it takes time for the atmosphere and surface temperatures to cool down as the heat is retained and releases slowly. So the really cold days do not start until the days start getting longer. The great news is, March is not that far away!
Happy Solstice! The days are getting longer!