Today is a special day in the Northern Hemisphere, because it is the shortest day of the year—the winter solstice. The hours of daylight will gradually increase until we reach the summer solstice, or first day of summer in June which is the longest day of the year.
My husband and I had the opportunity to travel to England and visit the great stone circle of Stonehenge, and also to Ireland for a visit to the ancient passage tomb of Newgrange. Both sites are temples and calendars built in ancient times for pagan worship and ceremonies. They also mark the the winter solstice or rebirth of the sun.
Today is also special because we will experience a Cold Moon and meteor shower. The following article explains all three phenomenon. The article was taken from WSLS Newschannel 10 of Roanoke, Virginia web site.
(CNN) – For six months now, the days have grown shorter and the nights have grown longer in the Northern Hemisphere — but that’s about to reverse itself.
Winter solstice, the shortest day of 2018, is Friday, December 21.
The solstice this year will be extra special because it will be followed the next day by a full moon known as the Cold Moon, and you might be able to see a meteor shower to boot.
First, CNN meteorologists Dave Hennen, Judson Jones and Brandon Miller help us understand the science behind the solstice.
Then we’ll take a closer look at that special moon. Finally, we’ll explore some traditions and celebrations around the world that could inspire a travel adventure:
The science 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, directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. It marks the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.
When exactly does it occur?
The solstice usually takes place on December 21. The time that the solstice occurs and the day itself can shift because the solar year (the time it takes for the sun to reappear in the same spot as seen from Earth) doesn’t exactly match our calendar year.
If you want to be super-precise in your observations, the exact time of the 2018 winter solstice will be 22:23 Universal Time. That would be 5:23 p.m. ET (for parts of Canada, the United States and Latin America). The website EarthSky has a handy conversion website for your time zone. You might also try to the conversion chart at WorldTimeBuddy.
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.
Wait. Why is the Earth tilted?
Scientists are not entirely sure how this occurred, but they think that billions of years ago, as the solar system was taking shape, the Earth was subject to violent collisions that caused the axis to tilt.
What other seasonal transitions do we mark?
The equinoxes, both spring and fall, mark when the sun’s rays are directly over the equator, where we have equal length of day and night. The summer solstice is when the sun’s rays are farthest north over the Tropic of Cancer, giving us our longest day and summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
So what’s going on with this full moon?
Our last full moon of the year will come less than a day after the solstice. Again, for those of you who love precision, it will occur on Saturday, December 22, at 17:49 Universal Time (that’s 12:49 p.m. ET), EarthSky says.
However, when you’re looking out into a clear sky on Friday night, the moon will appear full to you — and could be so bright that people with pretty good eyesight could read by it.
If you’re wondering how special this Cold Moon is so close to the solstice, it will be 2029 before it happens again. So it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but still, you don’t see this too often.
Now what about that meteor shower?
The annual Ursids meteor shower is expected to peak a day or two after the solstice. You might be able to see up to 10 “shooting stars” per hour depending on your location.
The website In the Sky has a great feature that helps you figure out where to watch and how many meteors you might see. For instance, people in South Florida might expect just three per hour while people in Juneau, Alaska, might expect seven per hour.
One caveat: That Cold Moon will be so bright that it could outshine some of the meteors as they streak in, making them harder to spot.
Winter solstice traditions and celebrations
It’s no surprise many cultures and religions celebrate a holiday — whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — that coincides with the return of the sun and longer days to come.
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 casting off of old habits and negative feelings and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer.
Many of the ancient symbols and ceremonies of the solstice live on today. Here are five extraordinary places to experience something magical during winter’s relentlessly long night:
UNITED KINGDOM: Cornwall and Stonehenge
Better known for pirates than the solstice, the town of Penzance on the southwest coast of England has revived a delightful array of Cornish solstice events leading up to December 21. The Montol Festival is a fun mix of pagan customs and more recent Christmas traditions that were once common throughout Cornwall.
Early in the week, join in caroling and other events. On the solstice, referred to here as Montol Eve, get your dancing card ready for the Guise, a community dance in which people dress in masks and other “topsy-turvy” disguises based on a 19th-century tradition of the rich dressing in rags while poorer citizens effected a “mock posh” look.
You can also don your finery for torchlit processions. The merrymaking only continues when the revelers disperse to pubs around town.
With some planning, it’s also possible to incorporate a trip to Stonehenge, the UK’s most famous site for solstice celebrations. On the winter solstice, visitors have the rare opportunity to enter the towering, mysterious stone circle for a sunrise ceremony run by local pagan and druid groups.
The trip from Penzance to Stonehenge takes less than four hours by car, making it entirely feasible to spend the night of December 20 in Salisbury, the nearest town to Stonehenge, and rise before dawn for the ceremony among the stones.