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02/02/2019 – Ephemeris Extra – Groundhog Day and other seasonal days

February 2, 2019 Comments off

Note:  I wrote this article as part of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society’s Stellar Sentinel for February 2019.

Groundhog day coming this month got me to thinking about the seasons and those special seasonal days, like solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days. February 2nd is a cross-quarter day, supposedly when winter is half over. Below is a table I created of the seasons for one year starting with last December’s winter solstice.

I took the date and times from Astronomical Tables of the Sun, Moon and Planets, Third edition by Jean Meeus. TD is Dynamical Time, used to calculate the positions of bodies in the solar system, is about 68 seconds fast compared to Universal Time (UT), which is tied to the Earth’s rotation. The difference is slowly changing at less than a second a year and doesn’t enter into the calculations. The Julian Date is a consecutive date starting on January 1, 4713 BC at noon UT. It’s used by astronomers to calculate date differences. like the length column in the table above without worrying how many days months have or how many leap years are in the interval. If you want to convert a calendar date to a Julian date or a Julian date to calendar date go to the Naval Observatory web page here: https://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/JulianDate.php.

Note that the seasons are of different lengths. This is because the Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical. It reached perihelion, its closest to the Sun, this year on January 3rd, and it will reach aphelion, its farthest, on July 4th. The Earth or any planet moves fastest when near perihelion. And with perihelion 14 days into winter, makes winter the shortest season. Autumn is the second shortest season 90 days compared to winter’s 89 days. Summer at nearly 94 day’s length is 4.7 days longer than winter. However we’re too far north to really notice it. Spring is second with nearly a 93 day length.

The rest of this article is based quite a bit on the web page: Common Holidays in Relation to Equinoxes, Solstices & Cross-Quarter Days – https://www.naic.edu/~gibson/cal/. It’s a cool list. Naic.edu is the website of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Apparently it was someone’s (Gibson’s) personal post.

The equinoxes and solstices are quarter days, for the four seasonal quarters of the year. The table above has Mid-Season and Date for the half way point in the season. The Cross-Quarter Days column are the dates which are more or less celebrated down throughout history.

The first celebrated cross-quarter day is February 2nd, Groundhog Day Which the famous weather prognosticating rodent in Punxsutawney, PA forecasts the length of winter based on if he sees his shadow. Supposedly, if he sees his shadow winter will last for six more weeks, if he doesn’t then spring is just around the corner. Actually from February second to the vernal equinox is six and a half weeks. If we had a winter like last year with a snowy April, winter lasted until the second cross-quarter day. The actual first cross-quarter day this year is February 4th. February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas, is also celebrated as Candlemas Day, when candles are blessed for the year, and the Feasts of the Purification of the Virgin Mary and The Presentation of the Child Jesus by the Catholic and some other Christian Churches.

The first quarter day is the vernal equinox, which occurs in our time zone on March 20th. The Ides of March, the 15th is pretty close to the vernal equinox and was the start of the year for a time with the Romans. It was the date in 44 BC that Julius Caesar was assassinated. March, named after the god Mars was also for a long time the first month of the year. They, for a time had 10 months, and consigned the winter months to ?. Later they added two months in front of March, which is why our 9th through 12th months are named September (7), October (8), November (9) and December (10).

The second cross-quarter day to be celebrated is May 1st, May Day. The actual 2nd cross-quarter day this year is May 6th.

The second quarter day, the summer solstice is on June 21st. It’s near midsummer day, the 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist. It’s a big deal in Europe. If you had a midsummer’s night dream it would be on the night of June 23-24. Of course if that date was really midsummer, summer would have to start in early May.

The third cross-quarter day is August 1st, Lughnasadh. This is Celtic. It was the wedding day of Lugh, their sun god with the goddess of the Earth. This causes the crops to ripen in time to harvest in the fall. The actual date this year is August 7th.

The third quarter day is the autumnal equinox. This year it’s on September 23rd.

The fourth cross-quarter day is celebrated on October 31st, Halloween. It is the day before All Saints Day, and Day of the Dead in Mexico. The actual cross-quarter day this year is November 7th.

The fourth quarter day is the winter solstice, December 21st. This is in the midst of festivals ancient and modern around the time the Sun starts heading north again. Festivals of light, like Saturnalia, Yule, Christmas, and Hanukkah

There you have the days of our seasons.

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Categories: Ephemeris Extra, Seasons

12/21/2019 – Ephemeris – Winter starts today

December 21, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, December 21st. The Sun will rise at 8:16. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:05. The Moon, 1 day before full, will set at 7:56 tomorrow morning.

Today is the shortest day of the year, well in daylight hours. The Sun will be up for only 8 hours and 48 minutes in the Interlochen/Traverse City area, 8 hours 53 minutes in Ludington, and 8 hours 40 minutes at the Straits. This is because the northern end of the Earth’s axis is pointing some 23 and a half degrees away from the Sun. Or it will at 5:22 this afternoon, the instant of winter solstice, when winter will begin. To find how high the Sun will get in the south at local noon take 90 minus your latitude and subtract also 23 and a half degrees. For Interlochen that’s 21.8 degrees above the southern horizon. We’re not getting much heat from the Sun. But as winter progresses the rising Sun will slow the cooling and begin to warm us up before spring.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

December solstice

The Earth and its axis on the first day of winter, the winter solstice. From my Sun and the Earth talk slides.

The Earth near the December solsitce

DSCOVR satellite’s Earth Polychromatic Camera image of the Earth at 18:09 UTC (1:09 p.m.) December 19, 2017. We’re way up at the top just under the clouds at the top. It was actually partly cloudy that day. The DSCOVR satellite was in a halo orbit about the Earth-Sun Lagrange L1 point, 934,498 miles (1,503,929 km) toward the Sun from Earth.

Solstices

Comparing the sun’s path at the summer and winter solstices for Interlochen/Traverse City. This is a stereographic representation of the whole sky which distorts the sky and magnifies the size of the sun’s path near the horizon.

06/26/2018 – Ephemeris – Latest sunset of the year

June 26, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, June 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 33 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:59. The Moon, 2 days before full, will set at 5:42 tomorrow morning.

Today is the day of the latest sunset, at least for around latitude 45 degrees north. It will be within the same minute for the next 5 days, before it retreats. By the end of July sunset will be at 9:09 p.m. The lopsidedness of the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset is caused by two factors. The Sun’s high latitude or declination above the equator, which makes it appear to move faster, countered in the summer by the fact that the Earth is almost at its farthest from the Sun, which makes it appear to be slower. These effects are why sundials don’t keep proper clock time without the adjustment of the equation of time to the readout, or fancy sundials that take that into account.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

In a post from last year I looked at the equation of time: https://bobmoler.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/03132017-ephemeris-more-thoughts-about-yesterdays-time-change/

 

06/21/2018 – Ephemeris – Yay, summer is here!

June 21, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, June 21st. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 34 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:57. The Moon, 1 day past first quarter, will set at 2:57 tomorrow morning.

Welcome to summer! It began at 6:07 this morning. If you remember back to winter and the beautiful constellation of Orion. Some folks could trace the club he was holding over his head off the red star Betelgeuse. The Sun now appears above that. If you remember Gemini the twins, well the Sun is off Castor’s big toe. That’s all pretty high in the sky and giving us 15 hours and 34 minutes of daylight. That’s why summer’s so hot. This despite the fact that in two weeks we will be the farthest we get from the Sun all year. The 3 million mile difference in the Sun’s annual distance is peanuts compared to the seasonal fluctuations caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

The Sun with its position with the stars at the summer solstice

The Sun with its position with the stars at the summer solstice, June 2018. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Summer Solstice

The sun’s daily path through the sky from horizon to horizon on the first day of summer, the summer solstice. Grid lines are 15° apart. The Sun os plotted at 15 minute intervals. Credit: My LookingUp program.

 

5/15/2018 – Ephemeris – Two thirds thru spring

May 15, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, May 15th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 9:04, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:13. The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

Here we are at the middle of May, nearly two-thirds through spring and in the west only a few winter stars remain. Castor and Pollux of Gemini are horizontal in the west, Procyon the Little Dog Star is below and left of them, Capella in Auriga is in the northwest, but for most of the IPR listening area it will never quite set. At 10:30 Betelgeuse in Orion the hunter will be setting, chased from the skies by Scorpius the scorpion, which is rising in the southeast. In one story it is the sting of this scorpion that killed him. Already at that time two-thirds of the stars of the summer Triangle are up. Bright Vega in Lyra the harp, and Deneb in Cygnus the swan. The Big Dipper reigns overhead as spring is in full bloom.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Goodbye winter, hello summer

The sky dome for 10:30 p.m. May 15, 2018 showing the stars and constellations. It may not work for any latitude or time, but it works for our location, near 45 degrees north. Created using Stellarium.

03/20/2018 – Ephemeris – Spring begins later today!

March 20, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, March 20th. The Sun will rise at 7:45. It’ll be up for 12 hours and 9 minutes, setting at 7:55. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 11:30 this evening.

At 12:15 p.m. the season of spring will begin. It may or may not feel it in our neck of the woods, but astronomically at that time the Sun will appear to cross a point in the sky called the vernal equinox. Equinox means equal night, when the Sun is up for 12 hours, and set for 12 hours. It does, if you don’t look too close, and in the old days clock weren’t that accurate anyway. The vernal equinox is the point in the sky where the Sun crosses the celestial equator, which is above the Earth’s equator heading north. The North Pole will begin 6 months of daylight, while the rest of the northern hemisphere will bask in more than 12 hours of sunlight a day. The reverse is true in the southern hemisphere where autumn will start.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Sun at the vernal equinox

The Sun at the vernal equinox point in the sky at 12:15 p.m. EDT (16:15 UT) March 20, 2018. That point is the starting point in measurements on the celestial sphere. 0 hours right ascension, 0 degrees declination. The yellow line is the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit and the apparent path of the Sun, whivh moves about one degree per day from lower right to upper left. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

The Earth from DSCOVR/EPIC

The Earth from 2 days before the vernal equinox, with the north pole not quite in sunlight. I’ve added a magnifying spot showing Michigan. The white stuff fringing the upper part of the Michigan mitten is snow. It was a rare clear day Saturday when this image was taken. Credit NOAA/NASA/DSCOVR satellite/EPIC camera.

The DSCOVR satellite was 914,903 miles (1,472,394 km) sunward of the Earth at the time of the image.  The satellite is in a halo orbit of the Lagrangian L1 point between the Earth and the Sun.

01/01/2018 – Ephemeris – The difference between the winter full moon and the summer one

January 1, 2018 Comments off

Happy New Year, this is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for New Years Day, Monday, January 1st. 2018. The Sun will rise at 8:19. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 5:13. The Moon, at full today, will rise at 5:11 this evening.

The exact time that the Moon will be fill, at least to the nearest minute is 9:24 tonight. Ever notice the placement of the full moon in the sky between winter and summer? The Full moon near the winter solstice moves very high at midnight, while the full moon near the summer solstice is seen quite low in the south. For the Moon to be full, it most be nearly opposite the Sun in the sky, so we see it fully illuminated as the Sun does. The Moon’s orbit is close to the Sun’s apparent path in the sky, the ecliptic, which is the projection of the Earth’s orbit of the Sun. So the Moon now is near where the Sun will be 6 months from now in late June, high in the sky. Next full moon we will see a lunar eclipse.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

The winter full moon

The winter full moon at its highest. Created using Stellarium.

Summer full moon

The summer full moon at its lowest. Created using Stellarium.