Merry Solstice


Picture yourself thousands of years ago at a settlement on Orkney Islands in the British Isles. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people gathered at a great stone temple to witness the winter solstice. Hear the music, breath oily fires. Fall silent as the sun rises, illuminating stone after monolithic stone as far as the eye can see. Ponder the world with a Neolithic eye, in a place built hundreds of years before Stonehenge.

http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/scotlandorkneys.htm

The winter solstice marks the shortest day, and longest night in the northern hemisphere. The point when the sun in the dome of our sky, reaches the southern most point every year. The solstice is not a day, rather a “moment in time” – a moment observed and captured by ancient civilizations on every continent.

The magnitude of precise observations; the ability to erect structures whose only purpose was to capture a fleeting moment – should shame us all.  Most of us know Dec. 21 is the first day of winter; we hurry about knowing there are only a few shopping days till Christmas. How many of us stop to think that once upon a time civilizations thrived on understanding of celestial events. People who valued everything we seem to have forgotten.

We can never be on ancient Orkney – we can imagine the thrill of revering our world. Stop for 5 minutes to gaze at the night sky, throw caution to the wind and learn to recognize a constellation or note the length of afternoon shadows. Listen to the wind, howl at the moon – I don’t care – just pay attention.

Merry solstice to all, and to all a good night.

Everything solstice by Deborah Byrd at earthsky….

http://earthsky.org/earth/everything-you-need-to-know-december-solstice

Lost in the Woods


Imagine yourself lost in the woods without a compass or GPS. An accurate sense of direction could save your bacon; so which way is north or south? In the Northern Hemisphere the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. At noon the sun will appear in the middle of the horizon and directly south. Walk facing the sun and you will be heading south, sun at your back sees you trudging north. For the Southern Hemisphere simply reverse the process.

Not noon, don’t know the correct time – here’s another method. Find a stick about a metre long, drive it straight up into the ground of a sunny spot. Mark the end of the shadow it casts with a rock. This will be west. Wait about 15 minutes then mark the end of the cast shadow with another rock. This will be east. Draw a line between the two points for your east/west position and another at a 90 degree angle for your north/south line.

No sun? Look for moss on trees – moss on the southern side is usually greener and thicker. Ants also build their hills on the warmer southern side of trees or hills,just  as snow melts faster on southern exposures.

What if night has fallen? If the moon rises shortly before sunset the bright side will face west. If it rises much later around midnight, the brightly illuminated side faces east. If you can’t see the moon but the sky is clear enough to find stars, look for the Big Dipper, next find the Little Dipper and draw an imaginary line between the two brightest stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper to the brightest star in the handle of the Little Dipper. This should take your eye to Polaris or the North Star; the bright middle star in the constellation Cassiopeia.

I’ve only ever been lost once, and that was in a department store when I was four. If I ever find myself lost in the woods – at least I’ll be able to find my direction home.

http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/survival/wilderness/true-north.htm

Halley’s Aquarids


Halley’s Comet last visited earth in 1986; far beyond the orbit of Uranus, it won’t be back until 2061. Halley laps the solar system approximately every 76 years – though light years away, it leaves behind a trail of cosmic dust. Twice a year our orbit passes this dust trail  – in May the Aquarid meteors and in October the Orionids.

The Aquarids – named for their origin in the Aquarius constellation – peak tonight and tomorrow. The southern hemisphere has the best seats for this show with over 50 meteors an hour hitting the atmosphere at 66 Km/second. Northern hemisphere viewers can still see show, even though it’s hampered by Aquarius barely rising above the horizon.

http://spaceweather.com/meteors/etaaquarids/etaaquarids.html

Photo by David Kingham – taken tonight at Devils Tower

http://500px.com/photo/33142555

Comet Pan-STARRS


On March 5 Comet Pan STARRS will make it’s closest approach to earth. At 28 million miles away, it will be visible to the naked eye. Discovered in June of 2011 by scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa; while officially C/2011 L4 – they dubbed it Pan STARRS after the telescope used (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System)

http://www.space.com/15108-comet-panstarrs-skywatching-countdown-2013.html

Pan-STARRS photographed by Michael White – New Zealand

Time To Switch Hemispheres


Sept. 22 the fall equinox arrives. Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun straight up and down, it’s tilted on a rather wobbly axis of about 23 degrees. Twice a year the angle of orbit mirrors the angle of tilt resulting in the axis neither turning towards or away from the Sun. This is the equinox, the point at which Northern and Southern hemispheres switch seasons as the Earth continues along its endless path. At the equinox both hemispheres receive about the same amount of sunlight, their days and nights the same duration. Equinox is derived from the Latin words aequis meaning”equal” and nox meaning “night”.

Ancient cultures built mind boggling structures for the sole purpose of marking the equinox. Stonehenge and Machu Pichu are two of the better known astrological observatories tirelessly heralding in the equinox with scientific precision.

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-autumnal-equinox-of-2012

Stonehenge from the Epoch Times