Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Winter Solstice

It's that special time of year again in the Northern Hemisphere. The ground is blanketed with snow, people are gathering with friends and family, and everyone is getting ready to celebrate the winter holiday season. For some, it starts the day after Thanksgiving. But I tend to really get in gear on the Winter Solstice. This year, it falls today, December 21, 2010, at approximately 18:38 EST. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year, and marks the time when the Earth's axis is oriented farthest from the sun. But while long nights and little sunlight may seem a bit dreary, fear not! This also means that tomorrow, the day will have a little more light added to it, as will the day after that, and the day after that, for the next six months until we reach the Summer Solstice (the longest day and shortest night of the year). This is good news for those of us who can survive the winter, but prefer the warmer, sunlit seasons (like this female Passer domesticus at above-left).

This year, the long night was made a little darker by a total lunar eclipse that happened to coincide with this years Winter Solstice. I'd be lying if I said I stood outside in the cold from 1:32 to 5:01 EST this morning. But I did set my alarm so that I'd be able to see the point of greatest eclipse at 3:17 EST. By that time, the moon was a deep red color and looked quite the sight hanging above and between the constellations of Orion and Taurus. Hopefully by the next lunar eclipse, I'll have invested in a better camera lens (or at least a tripod) so that I can get some good photos. For those who missed it, here's the fast-forwarded recap.

Video by peteherron, from YouTube.

So what else will this winter bring? Cold. Really bitter, dry cold. We've had several days of record low temperatures here in the Washington, DC area, 15-20 °F below the previously recorded temperatures. The region also saw its first substantial snow last week - almost a year (to the day) after our first blizzard from last season. I don't think we'll see anywhere near the same amount of snow we did last year, but they are calling for more towards the end of the week. I'd also like to think that people won't use the winter weather as a talking point to deny global climate change as they have in the past. But it seems like some people just never learn. As quickly as the climate has changed to bring colder temperatures to our area a lot earlier than expected, political pundits cite this as proof positive that denying climate change its the way to go.

But I'm not going to let them get me down! Not on the Winter Solstice! I know it has been quiet around here as of late, but hopefully once the holidays have passed (and I have a little time away from work and classes) I'll be able to get out some more, substantial content. I've got a lot of topics that I've been dying to get into but its been difficult to finish posts I start, or find time for them in the first place. But until I can, regardless of what you celebrate (I know here at Superoceras, Cephalopodmas is a favorite, for obvious reasons) Happy Holiday season and a wonderful New Year to you all!

"Tree", from the ever more intelligent and humorous than I, Randall Munroe of xkcd.

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