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December 22, 2005

Solstice Sunrise

I left at 6:35 to drive to the sunwheel. The sky was already lightening up but headlights were still in order. My mind drifted. When I got close, the stones hove into view, and a moment later, a tightly-gathered crowd of 50 people. The stones were gorgeous but the cluster of people took my breath away. I wasn't expecting that.

I pulled on my outer layers (17 degrees F, - 8 Celsius) and opened the car door to laughter. Forty-eight of the folks gathered were from a middle school in Springfield; great kids. :-)

Professor Young from the Astronomy Dept at UMass explained her brainchild, the perseverance it took to complete it over a decade (including two false starts), and then taught us five facts about the winter solstice and more.

1. Sunrise occurs at its most southerly point.
2. Sunset occurs at its most southerly point.
3. The nights before and after the moment of the solstice mark the longest nights of the year.
4. The day between these nights is the shortest day of the year.
(Interestingly, although technically true, the difference in length is so minute that solstice - the sun standing still - actually encompasses two entire weeks.)
5. The sun at noon is at it's lowest point above the horizon.

We also learned that if you're along the Tropic of Capricorn on the day of the winter solstice then the sun will be directly overhead. Likewise, for the summer solstice if you're along the Tropic of Cancer the sun will be directly overhead.

AND - I saw the earth's shadow reflected back by the atmosphere (learning when to look and what to look for), AND we saw - and named! - crepuscular rays as the morning sunlight from the east curved into the horizon in the west.

The rising itself was spectacular. Clear, crisp air. Just a few scattered clouds tinted with a lovely soft pink glow. The sun shone between trees as it eeked over the horizon, directly above its stone. :-) On the drive back, the sun was so bright you could feel its warmth through the car window. Blessed.

Posted by Steph at December 22, 2005 10:15 AM


This is so cool. I can't wait for the summer solstice; I'll be there. The winter solstice is one of my favorite days in the year, because, yes FINALLY the days start getting longer again! I remember one year feeling so connected to the world that day, and more joyful than at Christmas, which was a few days later.
And, how cool, I've been wanting to pay a little more attention to the sky; this is a fun and painless way, that doesn't involve being frustrated at all the light masking most of the stars at night.

Posted by: Elizabeth S. at January 6, 2006 8:13 AM

Elizabeth - If I'm around, I'll be there for the summer solstice too. I got accepted to present at a conference in Istanbul!! If I can just figure out how to get there....

Posted by: Steph [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 6, 2006 7:39 PM

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