We have entered my favorite time of year, the Winter Solstice, midwinter, the darkest part of the year and the Christmas season where light and dark are juxtaposed.
Most of the minor celebrations centered around the Christmas season seem to be related to the solstice in one way or another. Today is St. Lucia’s Day, Sweden’s “Little Yule,” and a celebration of light in the darkness. It’s a holiday we were fond of celebrating when Aly was growing up. The 3rd and 4th Advent Sundays, also a light celebration, will bracket the Winter Solstice itself.
We had clear skies earlier this week, bringing us brief but welcome sunny days. With the waning moon a thin sliver, and very little ambient light in our view, the stars have been spectacular. Michelle stopped in the middle of the bay and turned off her headlamp to star gaze for a while on her way home.
We’ll enter the darkest days on December 17th, when we’ll receive 6 hours and 8 minutes of daylight each day through the Winter Solstice on the 21st (2:12 a.m. Alaska Standard Time) and a few days after. On December 23rd, we’ll see one minute more of daylight, and gain a little more each day from there.
With last night’s new moon, the nights are especially dark, which is fortuitous, because the Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night, and continues through December 19th. Most of the meteoric activity will center around the constellation Gemini. If you’re somewhat constellationally challenged, as I am, look for Orion’s belt, then look above it, just beyond Orion’s raised arm. Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins) are the two bright stars just beyond that. Locally, that constellation should appear over the Coast Range east of Haines about 7:00 p.m. or so. Hard to say for sure, since my planisphere doesn’t account for the profile of our horizon. (If anyone knows a good way to duplicate that accurately on a planisphere curve, please let me know—that would be really cool!)
All told, we’re celebrating a lot of different kinds of light this solstice.