15 minutes till winter solstice and lunar eclipse in Canada and USA

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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It’s all coming together on Tuesday, December 21, 2010. We get not one but two events for those fond of astronomy. For the uninitiated, let’s look at a couple of explanations.

Winter Solstice

This is the point in time when the Earth is the farthest away at its maximum tilt of 23 degrees, 26 minutes. For all of us, the days have been getting shorter and nights have been getting longer up to this point, the winter solstice. Afterwards, the days will begin to lengthen again and the nights will shorten. The exact date of the winter solstice may be December 21 or 22 depending on the shift in the calendar.

If you haven’t guessed, there is a summer solstice which is June 20 or 21. This is the longest day of the year for us. And don’t forget that down under, for those in the southern hemisphere everything is the opposite. Our longest day is their longest night. And by the way, even though the length of the days and the nights is the opposite in the southern hemisphere, the water in a toilet does not drain in the opposite direction. That’s a myth about the Coriolis Effect operating on draining water.

Just to round things out, the middle point between the two solstices is called the equinox and we have two of them. There is the March equinox or the vernal equinox and then the September or autumnal equinox. According to the calendar, they may be March 20 or 21 and September 22 or 23.

Now how does all this work in respect to the sun? For an equinox, it’s simple. That is the point when the sun is directly over the equator. For our summer solstice, this is when the sun is the farthest north and directly over the Tropic of Cancer which is at latitude 23 degrees north 44 minutes. For our winter solstice, the sun is over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere at latitude 23 degrees south 44 minutes.

True Story
Years ago I doing a long car trip in June with an acquaintance, Mike. We were chit-chatting back and forth trying to wile away the time. At some point, realising what the date was, I wished Mike a "Happy Summer Solstice". He didn’t know what the word solstice meant so I explained it to him. For the next three days he kept chuckling away about my Happy Summer Solstice greeting. He thought this was quite amusing; ah, fun with words.

The next time you’re in a card store and want to do something original and unusual, pick yourself up a blank card and fill in a Happy Solstice or Equinox. Let’s see if the recipient even knows what that is! 🙂

Hey buddy, got a minute?
I used the expression 23 degrees, 26 minutes to describe the tilt of the Earth on its axis. What the heck is a minute?

We all know the word minute relates to time but as it turns out, it is a term also used in describing angles. If we look at the equator running around the middle of the globe, we have 24 hours with each hour divided into 60 minutes. In that case we use longitude to describe the East West displacement and use minutes and seconds to further define that displacement. My home town of Toronto is located at 79 degrees, 20 minutes and 26.47 seconds west longitude and 43 degrees, 42 minutes and 59.72 seconds north latitude. By the way, at the equator one minute is equal to about one nautical mile which is 1,852 metres or approximately 6,076 feet.

Don’t forget that latitude is the angular distance north and south from the equator and longitude is the east and west. Ah