Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice

It is the Summer Solstice. I wish a happy solstice to any readers who are Druids, Wicca or practitioners of any of the various nature-based religions that hold this day as blessed, holy, sacred, or in any other way special.

I've long understood the mechanics of the day: the earth, spinning on its axis, is canted off the perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic (the plane that contains the earth's orbit around the sun) by about 23.5ยบ. This means that the shadow terminator on a Mercator Projection map of the globe describes a parabolic wave as it moves across the planet. Twice a year (at the equinoxes) the shadow is more-or-less- two vertical bands, one light, and one dark. The rest of the year, the shadow and light sections are two sides of a wave drawn across the map.

At the solstices, the Polar Regions get very long days and nights (depending on which pole and which solstice) and the closer you are to the poles, the greater the disparity between the day and night.

Like I said, the mechanics of this is something I have long understood. The practicality was something that never struck me until I started spending lots of times at these extreme latitudes. Being from the tropics, the whole concept of the equinoxes really didn't strike home. It's hard to appreciate when the total difference between the longest and shortest nights of the year is an hour-or-so.

Sure, as a kid, I vaguely remember the sunset being later in the summer when we were visiting my grandparents, but when I thought of that at all, I pretty-much chalked-it-up to the excitement of being on vacation, or to Minnesota being special in some way, or to mom and dad forgetting to put us to bed. This last was only when I was really young.

It has really hit home recently; now that I am spending lots of time in London, I can really appreciate the difference between the longest and shortest day of the year.

Sunrise this morning was about a quarter to five. Sunset tonight will be about nine thirty. The twilight will extend that a bit more so that there are nearly seventeen hours of daylight today! That's too cool!

Besides the daylight thing, there is the whole history thing. Radio Four this morning had a report on the doings that they were expecting at Stonehenge today. (This, come to think of it, must have been pre-recorded. I was listening to the radio, as is my wont, as I woke-up this morning.)

Lying in bed at 04:50 I heard a story of the celebrations that they are expecting to take place to day from the various groups that consider Stonehenge to be a mystic place. Surely, as the sunrise is the hour at which the sun appears in the gap between the stones so as to fall across the altar-stone, which would have been when the celebrations occurred… but I digress.
I suppose my points here today are:

  1. I love the long days of summer
  2. I really enjoy being in London where the long days of summer are even longer
  3. It is the Summer Solstice, which means the day today is going to be really long
  4. Stonehenge has something to do with the Summer Solstice
  5. This post is just about over
Wherever you are today and what ever your views toward the summer solstice, I wish you a happy one!

Don Bergquist - 21 June 2007 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

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