Archive for the ‘solstice’ Tag

Happy Summer Solstice!   10 comments

Sunrise over Klamath Marsh, south-central Oregon.

Sunrise over Klamath Marsh, south-central Oregon.  Click on image for purchase options.

It is that special day today, Summer Solstice!  It’s the longest day of the year and the first day of summer for the Northern Hemisphere.  For all you Southerners it’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and start of winter.  For today I’m posting one sunrise, from Klamath Marsh in southern Oregon, and one sunset, from the Pacific Coast just south of the Oregon-California border.

Please let me know if you’re interested in fine-art prints of the images here, or want to buy rights to the high-resolution files.  They’re not available for free download except with my permission.  Please contact me, thanks!

You may already know this but the Earth is tilted on its axis about 23.5 degrees.  This tilt gives us our seasons, and means as we go around the Sun there are four moments (not whole days) when things line up.  In March and again in September there’s a moment when the North Pole is tilted precisely along our path of travel, our orbit, at a perfect right angle to the Sun’s direction.  These are the equinoxes, when day and night are equal the world over.

seasons-earth-orbit_large

In December there’s a moment when the North Pole points directly away from the Sun.  In June, usually on the 21st but sometimes on the 20th, a moment comes when the North Pole points directly toward the Sun.  This puts the Sun as far north in our skies as it can get.  In the Southern Hemisphere it’s low in the sky, leading to short days.  In the Northern Hemisphere it’s high in the sky, leading to long days.

In the far north above the Arctic Circle, where I spent a couple summers a long time ago in Alaska, the Sun never sets at this time of year.  It skims along nicely above the northern horizon throughout the wee hours.  I went on several long hikes in the Brooks Range when I was up there working.  I’m a person who needs darkness to sleep, and I was having trouble staying asleep.  So I used the time to see the midnight sun trace its path across the sky above the Arctic Plain.

Our encampment was down in a valley with a fairly high ridge to the north, so you couldn’t see the midnight sun for about 8 full hours.  It took about an hour and a half to climb the ridge, and I”m sure it would take twice that long for me now!  In good weather there was a clear view out to the Chukchi Sea to the west, the Noatak River Valley to the north.  The glowing sun glided not far above the horizon.

I recall seeing a few grizzlies on their rounds down below.  I never ran into one close, but being alone I was cautious.  I avoided obvious passes and other places a bear might use to cross from one valley to another.

So enjoy our long days all you fellow Northerners.  If you live relatively close to the equator, I’m sorry but all this talk of seasons and change is a bit lost on you.  But heck, go ahead and celebrate with the rest of us!

The rugged Pacific Coast of far northern California witnesses many a fine sunset.

The rugged Pacific Coast of far northern California witnesses many a fine sunset.  Click on image for purchase options.

The Solstice & Super Moon   6 comments

The summer solstice happened very close to the time of the full moon at perigee, here at Lost Lake.

The summer solstice happened very close to the time of the full moon at perigee, here at Lost Lake.

Yes I realize it is several days after the solstice, but I don’t want to wait 6 months to publish this.  It seemed to me significant that we had both the solstice and a full moon at perigee (“supermoon”) in the same week.  I’m an astronomy nerd, so the motions of the sun, moon and planets mean something to me.  It’s not just about your sign!  I think the solstices are the most important days of the year, with the equinoxes a close second.  I still like Christmas a lot, but that’s just the winter solstice a few days after.

Last week, one of the year’s two solstices took place.  For us in the northern hemisphere it marked the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.  It happened in the evening on the west coast of North America.  Like all astronomical phenomena, solstices (and equinoxes) happen at a specific time not on a date.  In the case of the solstice, it is the moment when the earth points its axis directly toward or away from the Sun.  For the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is when our planet points its northern hemisphere at the sun, at the sharpest angle it can.  Therefore for most of the world’s population this signifies the longest day and shortest night of the year.

Stonehenge was supposedly built to mark the solstices.  This is a replica of the famous megalithic ruins.  It is in Washington state.

Stonehenge was supposedly built to mark the solstices. This is a replica of the famous megalithic ruins. It is in Washington state.

For the southern hemisphere, the situation is the same but opposite.  The summer solstice for the northern hemisphere, which happens either on the 20th or 21st of June every year, is the winter solstice for the southern hemisphere.  Folks in South Africa and Australia have their shortest day and longest night while people in America and Europe have their longest day and shortest night.  The year’s other solstice occurs in 6 months, on December 20th or 21st.   The northern hemisphere is pointed away from the Sun, and thus has its shortest day and longest night.  The southern hemisphere has its longest day and shortest night.  Short nights around Christmas?  I really don’t like the thought of that.

This post is a good excuse to post an abstract, relatively rare for me.

This post is a good excuse to post an abstract, relatively rare for me.

The planet we live on is tilted on its axis of rotation.  Therefore it must tilt toward or away from the Sun as it revolves around it.  If you are good at visualizing, you know that there is a time (two times actually) when during the year the Earth neither points toward or away from the Sun.  Those times are known as the Equinoxes.  Nights and days are equal.  Think of those times as when the Earth is tilted directly toward or away from its direction of its travel around the Sun.

Okay, so why is this stuff important, or at least very cool?  The nature of time, the seasons, the passage of our lives:  to me these have always been very profound & interconnected things.  When I was younger, the seasons meant warmth, colorful leaves, cold and snow, and flowers, and that’s all.  But as I learned about things astronomical, the other pieces fell into place.  Add all the fascinating myths and stories from around the world and I realized I was not the only one who thinks these matters are important.

Surprising tulips appear randomly along Washington's Klickitat River, well away from any habitation.

Surprising tulips appear randomly along Washington’s Klickitat River, well away from any habitation.

Connections between things that happen in the world have always interested me.  You will occasionally see TV shows and books dedicated to these ties between natural events and human stories and experience.  Unfortunately these are too often academic and dry.  This I can’t understand, since these events have inspired so much that is creative in humans: poetry, art, stories.  I like the way people respond and react, both emotionally and in a visceral sense, to these cycles.  I definitely react to them, and I like this very real connection to the natural world that I share with others.  I guess that’s why I think the solstice is worth celebrating.

Rhodedendrons bloom in June in Oregon's forested Cascade Mountains.

Rhododendrons bloom in June in Oregon’s forested Cascade Mountains.

I should admit right here that I did nothing special to signify the event.  It snuck up on me.  I have in the past celebrated by climbing a mountain and camping atop it, or by joining in some extended outdoor excursion or even party.  But this time it just passed, and like with birthdays I just felt older.

Enjoy these images.  I’m sorry but they’re copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on any you are interested in to go to purchase options for the high-res. version.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks!

The so-called supermoon, actually the full moon at perigee, rises over Lost Lake, Oregon as a beaver swims by.

The so-called supermoon, the full moon at perigee, rises over Lost Lake, Oregon as a beaver swims by.

Dusk comes very late in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge at summer solstice.

Dusk comes very late in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge at summer solstice.

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