Science of the Winter Solstice

SCIENCE OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE

As we’ve mentioned before, the Romans celebrated a holiday known as the Saturnalia beginning on the Winter Solstice. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “solstitium” meaning “Sun, standing-still.” This year it will occur on December 21 at 12:04 UT (Greenwich Universal Time.)

Earth enjoys different seasons because the planet is tilted 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This means that the earth revolves like a tilted spinning top. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of sunlight as the Sun is at its lowest arc in the sky, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The farther north one is from the Equator, the more pronounced this is in Winter. However, as the Earth continues its orbit, the hemisphere that is angled closest to the sun changes, and the seasons are reversed.

In the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice, so that it looks like the Sun is “standing still” until following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

About billpetro

Bill Petro is a technology sales enablement and marketing executive with extensive experience in IT Service Management, Cloud Computing, SaaS, Virtualization, Automation, Storage, and Social Media.

2 Comments

  1. […] mistletoe, feasting and the exchange of gifts. December 25, the ancient date for their Winter Solstice, was celebrated as the birthday of the “unconquerable sun” or dies natalis solis […]

  2. History of Mistletoe | Bill Petro on December 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    […] of their sacred oak as part of their ritual five days after the new moon following the winter Solstice. In the middle ages it was hung from ceilings or placed above stable and house doors to drive off […]

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