Sunday, 20 December 2009

Joyeux Solstice d’hiver

As most of you already know, the 2009 winter officially begins tomorrow, Monday, December 21. The date will mark the winter solstice/solstice d’hiver, the astronomical point in time when the shortest day of the year will take place. From that point on, winter is ongoing, even though this year it came a little bit earlier in Europe. According to official scientific data, the solstice will take place at precisely 12:47 pm EST (1747 GMT), on Monday, LiveScience reports.

In astronomy, the winter solstice occurs when the axial tilt of our planet is the farthest away from the Sun possible within a year. The maximum tilt is about 23 degrees 26 seconds, which means that the star shines on our hemisphere for just a few hours. In addition, the Sun will also be visible at the lowest position in the sky it occupies all year. Generally, in the Northern Hemisphere, it appears high in the sky, such as during summer, and lingers there for many hours before finally setting, about two to three hours before midnight. During the solstice, the star will only rise a little bit in the northern skies, and will then plunge over the line of the horizon, just a few hours after sunrise.

The bright side, so to speak, is that the days will be getting longer come Tuesday. As the Earth's tilt gradually returns to its position over the months, the length of days will increase considerably, until they reach their maximum at the summer solstice, which in 2010 will fall on June 21. At that time, the daytime will reach a length of about 15 hours, as opposed to the 9 hours that the Sun will shine during Monday. Astronomers also say that the cold accompanying winter is entirely caused by the axial tilt. Surprisingly, the planet as a whole is actually closer to the star during Northern Hemisphere winter, but the tilt pushes the northern parts of the planet away from the warming sunlight.

Historically speaking, the solstices and equinoxes have been celebrated since Neolithic times, as evidenced by the large number of observatories that were constructed out of raw materials and with limited technology, but always pointed at the place of the sky the Sun would find itself in during one of these astronomical events. Additionally, many people began celebrating the solstice on account of the meaning they attached to it. The winter solstice, for example, was seen as a sign of rebirth, the time when the planet began to slowly return to life, after the length of days had decreased from summer through fall and well into winter.

Wishing you as very happy winter solstice/Joyeux Solstice d’hiver

L x

10 comments:

  1. Wonderful explanation! I'm just excited to get our 3 minutes more of daylight everyday!! Enjoy.

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  2. This week we get to burn the candles longer than any other days - then we begin the countdown to gardening! Always a positive side to everything. Hope you are enjoying your Holiday.

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  3. You did a great job explaining that, now I know. Joyeux Solstice d'hiver to you too, and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

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  4. Now THAT was some information worth sharing and I am by my fire now, warmly thinking that the days will be longer again as from Tuesday. But does that mean I'll get more done ;-) Hope so!! Your angel tutorial has been posted as promised. Of course, I can always come up and make some with you - given the longer days! Bisous A

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  5. So at least, as you say, the days will begin to get longer with you after Monday and by the end of January I always used to marvel that it was getting dark a little later each day!
    Meanwhile you can 'hunker down' there in the Northern Hempisphere and be cosy! Enjoy xx

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  6. Gosh, that was so interesting! I never knew the scientific reasoning...you are one smart cookie!

    I hope that the weather doesn't stay too crazy and that you have a magical and beautiful Christmas.

    Best wishes, Natasha.

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  7. Merry Christmas Leeann - hope you're enjoying the snow! Leigh

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  8. I am looking forward to Australian days becoming shorter again!! I prefer not getting woken up by light at 4.30am and prefer my evenings darker sooner too. I don't know, maybe I'm a spoilsport as I have two great kids who would love to be running around outside till as late as possible.
    LouLou
    xx

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  9. Leeann,
    How wonderful that you know all this!!!!
    I wish you a Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2010!!
    And thank you so much for all your sweet comments on my blog!!
    xxx
    Greet

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