Category Archives: Longest Day of the Year

Winter Solstice -The Shortest Day of the Year and the Christmas Star

I will take a holiday break after today. I’ve scheduled a couple of posts for the rest of the year. I’ll see you next year.

There is something very interesting happening today and I want to share a snippet of information with you.

Winter Solstice (CNN)

Winter solstice 2020, the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter, is on Monday, December 21.

The science and timing behind a winter solstice

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun appears at its most southerly position and the beginning of summer, whereas in the Southern Hemisphere in places such as Argentina, Australia, and South Africa. There, the December solstice marks the longest day of the year.

These three images from NOAA's GOES East (GOES-16) satellite show us what Earth looks like from space near the winter solstice. The images were captured about 24 hours before the 2018 winter solstice.
These three images from NOAA’s GOES East (GOES-16) satellite show us what Earth looks like from space near the winter solstice. The images were captured about 24 hours before the 2018 winter solstice. NOAA

What causes the winter solstice to even happen?

Because the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we experience seasons here on Earth. As the Earth moves around the sun, each hemisphere experiences winter when it’s tilted away from the sun and summer when it’s tilted toward the sun.

Many cultures and religions celebrate a holiday — whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — that coincides with the return of longer days.

Ancient peoples whose survival depended on a precise knowledge of seasonal cycles marked this first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the opportunity for renewal, a shedding of bad habits and negative feelings and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer.

Many of the ancient symbolsand ceremonies of the winter solstice live on today or have been incorporated into newer traditions.

Decorated evergreen trees have roots that go back beyond the beginnings of Christianity to ancient Egypt and Rome.
Decorated evergreen trees have roots that go back beyond the beginnings of Christianity to ancient Egypt and Rome.

The ‘Christmas Star’ (CNN)

On the night of December 21, the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, are coming closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages. They appear so closely aligned in our sky that they will look like a double planet. This close approach is called a conjunction. It’s happening just in time for Christmas — hence the nickname of the “Christmas Star.”

Through December 25, they will become even cozier. Look for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset each evening during this time.

How to watch?

“On the evening of closest approach on December 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only 1/5th the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan said. “For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”

While these two planets may appear close, they are still hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA.

Saturn (top) and Jupiter (below) are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park, Sunday, December 13, in Luray, Virginia.
Saturn (top) and Jupiter (below) are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park, Sunday, December 13, in Luray, Virginia.

Live events around the conjunction

If you miss this conjunction and want to see the planets with the same proximity, just higher in the sky, it won’t happen until March 15, 2080 — and then not again until after 2400.

In case weather conditions in your area aren’t agreeable to witnessing this celestial event, several livestreams will be available.

The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, will host a program beginning at 7 p.m. ET, showcasing live views through its telescopes. The stream will be on the observatory’s YouTube page.

The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will also share live views on its website

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