Here’s the largest photograph of the universe ever taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It gives a glimpse of how unimaginably vast the universe is – and this is just a small portion of the Andromeda galaxy. Watch and be amazed.
Today is the winter solstice here in Freedom’s Land. On the east cost, where I am, that occurs at 6:03 this evening a little while after the Lions beat the Bears. [UPDATE: 20-14 Lions!]
That means that today is the shortest day of the year and technically the days should be getting longer starting tomorrow. Yay! But don’t pull out that seed catalog quite yet, it’s still going to look pretty wintery for a while longer.
Winter Solstice occurs when the sun’s daily maximum height in the sky is at its lowest, and the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun. This results in the least number of daylight hours and the longest night of the year.
The length of a solar day varies because the axis of the Earth’s rotation is tilted – 23.5 degrees from vertical – and because its speed fluctuates as it orbits the sun, accelerating when it is closer to the star’s gravitational pull and decelerating when further away.
It takes a while for the clock and the solar days to align: evenings draw in towards their earliest sunset a couple of weeks before the shortest day, and mornings continue to get darker until a couple of weeks after.
Back in the day, Winter Solstice was called “Yule” and northern Europeans used to burn a huge Yule log to keep away the night (the original fire pit), and to celebrate the coming longer days by eating while the log was burning. That’s why Yule logs are huge – so they would burn as long as 12 days (12 days of Christmas), in order that the celebratory eating would last as long as possible. The wisdom of the ancients runs deep.
So I’m driving to work this morning from Rehoboth Beach and my radio is telling me things. Did you know that the nursery rhyme “Hey diddle diddle…” refers to the spring constellations? Of course you did! But I didn’t. Turns out that this, which I always thought was just nonsense:
Hey, diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such sport.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
is a specific reference to the stars overhead in April and May, and is supposed to indicate planting time in the spring, or something. The cow is a reference to the constellation Taurus, and the New Moon of May is said to be in the sign of Taurus. So the cow jumps over the Moon. The Cat is a reference to Leo the Lion, which is chasing the little dog, Canis Minor (the “smaller dog” constellation), to the west and over the horizon. The fiddle is a reference to the lyre, or stringed instrument, which is overhead as the constellation Lyra, containing the bright star Vega. The dish and the spoon are the Milky Way and the Big Dipper. In May, Cygnus just starts to rise up in the northeast. Cygnus appears as though flying along the Milky Way, which is as flat around the horizon as it can get this month, like a plate, or a dish, and it seems to have “run away” from view. And while this is occurring, the Big Dipper, is straight up overhead: The dish runs away with the spoon!
Aside from this, my entire knowledge of the constellations I learned from The Simpsons.
Homer: “Well, there’s Jerry the Cowboy, and that big dipper looking thing? Alan . . . the Cowboy.”
To display your local weather, click on the 3 short lines at the top right of the widget. Delete “Washington D.C.,” and start typing the name of your nearest fairly large city. When the correct city appears in the drop down list, select it. Wait for the Page to reload, and there’s your weather. The page should remember your city.