Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Equinox 2016

The autumnal equinox in Utah will occur this year at 8:21 on the morning of September 22nd. Many consider this the official end of summer. The sunlit portions of the days are shortening by about two minutes and forty seconds each day. They have been shortening since the summer solstice (20 June 2016), but the pace has been increasing. About a month ago they were only shortening by two and a half minutes a day, and at the beginning of August we were only losing about two minutes and two seconds of daylight each day.

The amount of sunlight we lose each day will begin to decrease after the equinox. By the end of October we will only be losing about two minutes and twenty-three seconds of daylight each day. By the winter solstice (21 December 2016; 3:44 am) we will begin gaining daylight, slowly at first, but then increasing in rate till the vernal equinox in March (20 March 2017; 4:29 am).

Darkness falls on the North Pole, and it will stay dark till March. For many weeks the horizon will be back lit by the sun teasing at the curvature of the earth, but it will not rise above the horizon. The extent of sea ice in the arctic reaches its minimum as the lack of sunlight brings colder temperatures. This year’s minimum tied (2007) with the second lowest minimum observed since satellites first began making measurements 37 years ago.

Screen capture from the North Pole Webcam 16 September 2015.  2015 webcams were deployed by researchers from the University of Washington and images were made available by PMEL NOAA.  No webcams were deployed in 2016 due to funding constraints, but webcam deployment is scheduled for the 2017 season.

The undulations of night and day are the cosmic patterns that weave the seasons through the history of the planet. Though they have changed in frequency and amplitude they have not done so very much during the history of humankind, and have not done so at all in my lifetime. They are a constant wave and the events of my life are only fluttering and temporary harmonics of that wave. Even the rise and fall of empires and entire religions happens with the beating of light and dark and seasons as a metronome keeping time in the background.

By the time the days start getting longer again here in the US we will have had weeks to rue our choice of a new president. The equinox brings with it a trending of new polls that slowly diminish Clinton’s lead over trump to a tiny fragment of the margin of error in those polls; in a few more weeks he will be winning at this rate.

Summer loves become the companions of fall. Colors change and kisses become warm and protracted. Orion is early in the sky, and were it not for the winter’s inversions trapping winter’s car exhaust the moon would shine through the dry air with a noticeable clarity. At higher elevations along the Wasatch this coming weekend we should see snow; the moon reflecting off fresh snow can look just like love.

Thirty-two years ago I was covered in self-pity and snot. Today I talk with my hands as if conducting the spheres of the solar system into their respective orbits. Waving tiny wands at a cosmic inevitable creates the illusion of magic, and the real magic of understanding. Time and season drag the future to us; terrible, and wonderful, and with a cacophony of hope.

We can shape this future: on the individual scale by finding love and cultivating it, on the national scale by getting out and voting, and on the scale of the universe by conducting that magical action at a distance that allows us -as only humans can- to look out into the universe and wonder.

1 comment:

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