Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Winter Solstice (Not Doomsday)

Let me wish all my readers a happy Dec. 21, the day of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Despite the hue and cry of the doomsayers, the Sun rose today and our planet continues to orbit in the usual cosmic order of things. There is no greater or lesser chance of disaster today than any other day.

Today is special, however, for being the day that the Sun makes the lowest arc in our skies and thus gives us the shortest day of the year (as beautifully illustrated on the accompanying photo by Italian astro-photographer Danilo Privato.)

For thousands of years, civilizations throughout the northern half of our planet have planned special celebrations to cheer each other up around the time the day was shortest and the night was longest. They gathered with their tribe, lit a fire, danced and sang to implore their sun-god to return, made sacrifices (like burning a valued food animal), and perhaps gave a present of something they treasured to their loved ones.

Many of our modern traditions began with such winter solstice celebrations. I encourage you to reach out to relatives and friends today in the same way, perhaps sharing the beautiful solstice photo (a composite image made of 43 different exposures during a past solstice day from Santa Severa, Italy.)

Today, as on all other days of our annual journey around the Sun, we have far more to fear from our own actions than from the cosmos. It is a sad fact that the most likely form of local or global doomsday for planet Earth will come from humanity's own prejudices, superstitions, hatreds, and persistent refusal to face facts. In our lifetimes, our planet is probably going to suffer more from our pollution and carelessness than from the actions of the universe. Now that we seem to be surviving any "Doomsday 2012" coming from the skies, maybe we can resolve to do a little better as residents of planet Earth.

(Photograph used by permission. To check out the many astronomical photographs by Danilo Privato, please see his website: )

To learn more about why the Dec. 21, 2012 doomsday fears had no basis in science, you can check out the Calendar of the Sky website from the University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Lab -- a site to which I had the pleasure of contributing.  You might start with the essay: 
and then browse through the menu at left.)