Winter Solstice, Shortest Day of Year in Oregon, the Coast, Strange Astronomy History
(Oregon Coast) – Get ready for the shortest day of the year in Oregon and on the Oregon coast, but also the big turnaround with the arrival of the winter solstice – all on Friday, December 20 and Saturday, December 21. It's going to mean an unkind teaser for lovers of sunsets on the beaches, and it always brings up a curious bit of history about astronomy and early religions. (Above: Cannon Beach, but unfortunately Solstice this year means "No Sunset for you!")
The solstice – the first day of winter – happens at 9:11 a.m. on Saturday. This is the day we get about one extra minute of sunlight – actually a tad less than that. While Saturday marks the first day of winter, the previous day is actually the shortest day of the year. Friday will be about five seconds shorter than Saturday.
In Oregon, sunset happens a bit after 4:29 p.m. on Friday, according to U.S. Navy data. On Saturday, it happens at 4:30 p.m., and then on Sunday you get sundown at 4:31 p.m. For the Oregon coast, you may want to add roughly ten minutes to those times, as the flat horizon of the ocean provides for another ten minutes of sun at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, weather will not be cooperative that day on the Oregon coast for any good photos of that first sunset of winter. This is doubly tragic, considering what OMSI astronomy expert Jim Todd has to reveal about that day.
“Because of the low angle of the sun's arc, it will produce the longest and most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the year,” Todd said.
For the day before and after the solstice, humans won't be able to perceive any difference, and not just because it's negligible. According Todd, the word “solstice” comes from the Latin word “solstitium,” for sun-standing. This day is the time of the year when the sun stops its southern climb and stands briefly before turning back toward the equator.
“This date is the Winter Solstice, the day on which the Earth's northern pole is tipped away from the sun,” Todd said.
When seen from Portland, the sun will reach its lowest point in the sky – in the south – at 21.5 degrees on the horizon.
There was much about the Solstice that upset our ancestors, creating a kind of pervasive fear. In fact, Todd said winter solstice celebrations were so widespread in our western culture that the early Christian church decided to move Christmas to the time of the solstice.
Back to the present: Todd said from the perspective of those of us on Earth, the Sun will appear to stand still on the Solstice.
“Right after the solstice the Sun invariably started rising and setting a little bit farther north each day,” Todd said. “Our ancestors interpreted the sun's rising to mean that the world would not be plunged into eternal winter and that spring would once again eventually come”
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