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Winter Solstice

Orion family lights up skies

On Tuesday the 21st, the winter solstice occurs at 4:42 a.m. PST. This is when the sun is farthest south for the year and begins its six-month return northward, defining the start of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the southern hemisphere. These long, cold, dark winter nights are hard to get through up here in the mountains. I always rejoice when the winter solstice occurs and I know that the days will again get longer and longer (and warmer!) The ancient peoples of the world viewed this time as the ´mid-point´ of the winter season rather than the start of it as we do today. They knew that the sun was ´returning´ and there would indeed be an end to winter soon. You too can take solace in this knowledge.

One of the benefits of this time of year is, of course, early evening stargazing. The holiday season always finds the Orion family of constellations lighting the eastern sky by mid-evening. Look for Orion with his shining belt of stars fending off Taurus the Bull above him, his faithful dog, Canis Major, alight with brilliant Sirius, standing guard below. Capella in Auriga, the Charioteer,is way off to his upper left, Gemini with Pollux, Castor and (this year)Saturn are to his left, and Procyon shines between Saturn and Sirius. If you have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, be sure to take a look at Saturn´s magnificent rings. They are always a special present, no matter what time of year!

Thanks to Star Date magazine, National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky, and Space.com

Reprinted with permission from Sierra Mountain Times