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The Summer Solstice for 2017 in the Northern Hemisphere happened here at 12:24 AM EDT today, Wednesday, June 21.  Did you miss it?

I was still awake, but I didn’t feel anything odd. Due to those manmade time zones, it happened yesterday Tuesday, June 20, at 9:24 PM on the other coast. And it is only the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

In any case, the Sun reached its northernmost point from the equator.

Solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop). It did seem to earlier observers that the Sun appeared to stop at this time and then again to announce the winter solstitium.

In ancient Egypt, this solstice marked the start of the new year. They watched for the rising of the star Sirius which occurs around this time and it coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile River.

The halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice was on May 1. That day is known as May Day or Beltane and it marked the beginning of summer for the ancient Celts. It was a day for dance and song to celebrate that the sown fields were starting to sprout.

This is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year – even if it is rainy and cloudy where you are reading this. Here in Paradelle, dawn broke today at 3:18 A.M., the Sun rose at 5:25 A.M. and it won’t set until 8:32 P.M. giving us 15:06 hours of sunlight.

If we were on Mercury, which has practically no tilt relative to the plane of its orbit, we wouldn’t experience any true seasons. Bummer. If we were on Uranus, which is tilted by almost 98 degrees, the seasons would last 21 years. Also a bummer.

If I lived in Sweden, it would be traditional to celebrate this day by eating the first strawberries of the season. Since we just passed the Strawberry Full Moon, and since strawberries never go out of season in Paradelle in this age of supply chain eternal summer, I’ll have some strawberries myself today.

 

Some call this May Day. Depending on where you live, it could be International Workers’ Day or Labour Day. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries. Not many people are celebrating Beltane, so let’s mark that festival here.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.”

Traditionally large bonfires would be lit to celebrate this transition from spring to summer and the fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility.

The annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is the prime modern example.

Today, the neo-pagan community, often associated with the art of fire dancing, have also embraced the Beltane festivities.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mouton ash or rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world.

May Day is another name often given to this day. That derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. From her, we get the name of this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

A maypole is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place. The festivals may occur on May Day or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer.

May Day celebrations were continued by early European settlers to the American continent with May baskets filled with flowers or treats left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver catches the fleeing giver, a kiss is exchanged.

 

May Day basket

May Day basket

 

Cicada_skin

cicada cast-off skin

Sitting outside this afternoon, I tried guessing at the temperature by listening to some crickets. I do know that crickets chirp faster as temperatures rise, and slower when temperatures fall. I’m sure my parent’s were unaware of Dolbear’s Law when they told me about crickets and temperature (Temperature = 50+[(N-40)/4] where N = the number of chirps per minute), and math is not one of my strengths, but I could tell it was getting hotter.

If you can’t distinguish a cricket “song” from a cicada or a katydid, listen to a field cricket sound.

As an amateur phenologist (one who studies the seasonal changes in plants and animals), I’m interested in these sounds. Not that I could ignore the cicadas who are very noisily chirping around my house this month.

The cicadas are pretty creepy looking and their cast-off skins that they leave attached around the backyard are also creepy. Katydids are much nicer looking in their bright green. It is difficult to find them, but easy to hear their eponymous “Katy did! Katy did!” call from he trees. Can you hear females answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t?”    Take a listen to them

katydid

They hide with their veined oval-shaped wings that look like leaves in the treetops. They start singing in August, but, if you can identify when they start their summer song, weather lore says that autumn will arrive 90 days later. I’m not sure I caught the first katydid, but today was the first day I noticed them calling. That makes autumn in Paradelle arriving November 16.

The katydids are singing for love, lust and a mate. It is mating season (August through mid-October). Feel the love?

Sirius-Dog-Star

Summer is less than a month old, but today is the beginning of the Dog Days of summer.

Those days run for 40 days and are generally known as especially hot and humid weather with little rainfall. It’s the kind of weather that makes us feel a bit sluggish. It’s a time when we might want to have  bit of a dog’s life and just finding a nice shady spot to take a nap.

It was the ancient Greeks that gave it that tag because they believed that Sirius, the “dog star,” was making the sun hotter.  That quite visible star rises now with the sun and they assumed it was like a second sun.

The ancients also thought this was a period when dogs were more likely to go mad and have fits. Unfortunately, the Romans tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the Dog Days.

Nowadays, “Dog Days” is less of a weather term and more of a general term meaning any period of stagnation or inactivity. For example Wall Street marks this period as one that tends to be slow and sluggish.

Photographing the South Beach Full Moon

The first full moon of this spring season came early enough after the March 2016 equinox to allow for a fourth full moon to take place just prior to the summer solstice.

We had the equinox on March 20 and full moons on March 23, April 22, May 21 and now on June 20 at 11:02 Universal Time. The summer solstice will follow at 23:34 Universal Time. (That is 7:30 pm EDT – use the worldtimeserver.com to convert time zones.)

Last year, we had a father’s day solstice that got me thinking about childhood summer and father memories. Thinking about summer and full moons, sends my thoughts to nights on the beach when the full moon over the ocean looks bigger and more dramatic and gives a soft light to the beach.

As we slide into summer in the Northern Hemisphere,  the solstice (from the Latin solstitium, from sol-sun) and stitium- to stop), it’s a good day to stop ourselves and consider the season past and one ahead.

We now know that the Sun does not stop on the two solstices but simply crosses a path and “shifts” position at a moment in time. Do you observe the position of the Sun during the year? You probably don’t in as careful a way as I do or astronomers, but perhaps you notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day now. Have you ever noticed in the morning that the sun rises in relation to your home and your windows from different places in winter and summer? From my usual morning coffee spot in the family room, the Sun is shining right on me in winter, but come summer it’s streaming in a window on the other side of the room.

On the summer solstice tomorrow, the Sun is directly overhead at its most northern point at “high-noon.” There will be more sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere on this day than any other – even if it is cloudy or raining in your little corner of the world.

Why isn’t this also the hottest time of year? The atmosphere, land, and oceans are still cool from winter and spring and absorbing part of the incoming heat and energy from the Sun. But as the land and, especially, the oceans release that stored heat later in the summer, that will bring us our hottest days and nights.

At this midpoint of summer, I like to have some early morning views of the Atlantic Ocean so that I can see “the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn.”

Orion the Hunter arrives at the crack of dawn in late summer. Like most of use, he rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – being vertical.

As we move into hunting season and winter, this well-known constellation moves across the south during the evening hours. He is standing then and ready to hunt and those 3 belt stars in a horizontal line make it one of the easiest constellations to spot in the sky.

I was reminded this week of Orion by the EarthSky.org website which is one of my startup pages on this computer. It is a good way to be reminded to look up at the sky and a way to know what I might find there tonight.

I am also reminded that people write those daily posts. One of those people is  Deborah Byrd who created the EarthSky radio series back in 1991 and founded the site in 1994. She has won lots of awards for science and broadcasting and getting science to the masses. I think it is quite cool that she has an asteroid – 3505 Byrd – named in her honor.

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