Eyes to the Sky: Winter solstice, longest nights of the year


All week, December’s full to nearly full Long Night Moon has lit the dark hours -- the effect of Luna’s reflected sunlight stunningly augmented by the soft white coverlet that overspread the Berkshire Hills. These are the shortest days of the year, 9 hours and 6 minutes between sunrise and sunset, through next Thursday. That’s 14 hours 54 minutes of darkness.

Bright stars, dazzling planets and the alluring moon draw the sky gazer outdoors, both upon awakening in the morning and when the workday concludes in the afternoon. The colors of dawn begin to light up the east about half an hour before sunrise, which continues to be within minutes of 7:20.

Bright objects persist into the dawn in the coming days: Jupiter in the west, red-orange Arcturus at the top of the sky and the moon’s ever-changing shape and position. Following the brief appearance of our own star, which sets close to 4:25, Venus commands the western sky for about 2 hours. Tonight, Jupiter climbs above the east-northeast horizon at 5:40, the moon at 8:43.

The winter solstice occurs at 12:11 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, the 21st. The meaning of "solstice" is "sun stands still." During December, there is little change in the sun’s arc, traced from its far southeast position at sunrise to its southwest position at sunset.

The solstice marks the sun’s arrival at its southernmost reach. Next Friday, day length begins to increase, minute by minute! However, days don’t increase evenly at either end. Sunrise time continues at its latest (darker mornings) of the year until Jan. 9 while sunset time is later (lighter afternoons) by a minute every few days.

To contact Judy Isacoff, M.A. go to: www.naturesturn.org.


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