ILLINOIS – The darkest day of the year is upon us, which means the winter solstice is just a few days away in Illinois.
The celestial holiday celebrated through the ages as the Beginning of Light arrives in Illinois on December 21 at 9:59 a.m. CST. If you’re not a fan of daylight, you’re in luck – we’ll only see nine hours and eight minutes of sunshine on the first day of winter.
Whether you are a fan or not, there is much there is that Illinois residents can do to make the most of the winter season.
For anyone hoping to extend their winter solstice rejoicing until evening – or maybe the next day – here’s a bonus: The Ursid meteor shower is expected to peak on the morning of December 22.
The annual Ursid meteor shower, which takes place December 17-26 each year, is a minor meteor shower with only five to 10 shooting stars per hour. Still, a near moonless sky results in excellent viewing conditions in the Chicago area, depending on the weather.
Accuweather forecasts predominantly cloudy conditions with a low of 30 degrees in our area from Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning. Cloud cover will be 83%, according to forecasts.
Ursid meteors radiate closest to the star Kochab in Ursa Minor, according to EarthSky.org. The star Polaris – or the pole star – is also part of the Little Dipper. If you can’t find the Little Dipper, use the Big Dipper. No matter what time of year you are looking at, the two outer stars in the Big Dipper bowl always point to Polaris, marking the end of the Little Dipper handle.
The solstice is not something you see, but rather something that happens – although you may want to mark the 2021 solstice by taking a photo of your shadow at noon. Because the sun is at its lowest arc across the horizon, it casts long shadows. The shadows at noon on the day of the winter solstice will be the longest of the year.
The winter solstice occurs at the exact moment when the North Pole tilts furthest from the sun. On Sunday, the days start to grow a little longer each day until the summer solstice, after which the days start to get shorter again.
At the winter solstice, the sun appears to stop directly above the tropic of Capricorn, located 23.5 degrees south of the equator. During the summer solstice, which takes place in June, the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.
The winter solstice, the oldest known winter celebration, is derived from the Latin word âsolstitiumâ, which means âstill sunâ. In ancient times it was both essential spiritual and scientific and marked the changing of the seasons. The best place in the world to observe the winter solstice is the prehistoric Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, England, which is said to have been erected by ancient Celtic druids to align the exact position of the sunset at the winter solstice.
The winter solstice may explain why Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in December. The Bible does not specify when Jesus was born. Some people believe that December 25 may have been chosen by Pope Julius I as the birth date of Christ to replace the old pagan midwinter Roman festival called “Saturnalia” with a Christian holiday.
The late Harry Yeide, who taught religion at George Washington University for almost 50 years and died in 2013, once told National Geographic that as the celebration of Christmas moved west, ” the date that had been used to celebrate the winter solstice became somehow available for conversion to the Christmas celebration. “
For example, several rituals associated with Christmas – dinners, gifts, and decorative wreaths – are rooted in pagan winter solstice rituals.
It may surprise you that the first sunsets and the last sunrises do not occur at the winter solstice. It sounds counterintuitive, but as Earthsky.org explains, the key is to understand solar noon, the time at which the sun peaks in the sky. True solar noon occurs 10 minutes earlier on the clock in early December than at the solstice. When true noon occurs later at the solstice, so do the times of sunrise and sunset.
“It is this discrepancy between the clock time and the time of the sun that causes the first sunset in the northern hemisphere and the first sunrise in the southern hemisphere to precede the December solstice.” explains Earthsky.org. “The deviation occurs mainly due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. A secondary factor but another contributing factor to this deviation between the noon clock and the noon sun comes from the elliptical – oblong – orbit. of the Earth around the sun.
âEarth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and when we’re closest to the sun, our world is moving fastest in orbit. Our closest point to the sun – or perihelion – is in early January. So we’re moving the fastest in orbit now, slightly faster than our average speed of about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) per second. The gap between the sun’s time and the clock’s time is larger around the December solstice than the June solstice, because we are closer to the sun at this time of year. “