Happy Winter Solstice, or Yule! Of course, our spherical planet also gives us the beautiful symmetry of the Summer Solstice (Litha) being celebrated now by our Southern Hemisphere friends. With the exact Solstice moment after 11 pm EST today, it will already be Sunday in many parts of the world, so either day fits well for Solstice celebrations. About 1 out of every two years or so, the longest night is not the night before the Winter Solstice but rather is the night after the Winter Solstice. This is different for every time zone, and is easy to figure out. If the instant of the Solstice is in the morning (before noon) in your local time zone, then the longest night is the night before. If it’s in the afternoon or evening, the the longest night is the night after the Winter Solstice for you.
Some of the ways many of us are celebrating were published a few weeks ago. I hope all the preparations haven’t been too busy for you – but whether they have or not, now is the time to relax and celebrate! Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly prepared, after all.
This year, the new moon falls a few days after the Solstice, making this a very dark, long night indeed. Plus, the lack of a moon for most of the night gives good viewing for the Ursid meteor shower, which, appropriately, appears to emanate from near the North Star on every December Solstice. The Ursid meteor shower is not a big shower, and the number of meteors are not much above background. This is nothing like the Geminids or Perseids, which are definitely worth going out for.
The Sun and Moon also bring us an annular solar eclipse just after Solstice, visible from Indonesia to Southern India. While an annular eclipse is nothing compared to the darkness of totality, it’s still a wonderful sight to see – especially the shadows it casts. Lastly, the sky will give us another treat. The planet Venus is shining in the West, just after Sunset now. With binoculars, the fact that it is a thin crescent can be seen.