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by Paul Kiser
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Paul Kiser

For me, the New Year really begins today (December 22, 2010.) Being a science geek at heart, I tend to see the world slightly different that many and I see the day after the Winter Solstice as a rebirth. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, so from now until June 21st the days will get longer and that is cause for celebration.

In addition, for the next two weeks the Earth is still getting closer to the Sun. This year the perihelion (Earth closest approach to the Sun) occurs at 11 AM PST on January 3rd, 2011. Sure, it’s a relatively minor difference between perihelion and aphelion (Earth’s farthest distance from the Sun), but it’s still a 3 million mile difference! In the cold and dark of winter I’ll take being even one mile closer to the Sun.

Split image of the Sun's relative size at perihelion and aphelion in 2009. Thanks to NASA, photo by Enrique Luque Cervigón

From now until January 3rd we’re getting closer to the Sun AND the days are getting longer. The fact that Christmas and New Year’s (and Hanukkah in some years) all fall in the same two week period tend to overshadow the science, but it does not diminish that, from an astronomical point of view, there is also good reason to be of good cheer.

That is, of course, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. For our friends south of the Equator today marks the march toward darker days that peak just before the Earth is the farthest away from the Sun. That just doesn’t seem to be as uplifting as our situation. Maybe we shouldn’t say anything to them.

Solar Halo around Sun on Dec. 21, 2010 (Winter Solstice in Reno, NV, USA

So Happy New Year to all of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Brighter, longer days are coming! For our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, uhm… man, is it hot out or what!

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