Winter Solstice in Oregon: An Astronomy Delight, and Proof the World Won't End
(Portland, Oregon) – Winter begins on December 21, this week – and contrary to an out-of-control urban legend of sorts, the world will not end. In fact, scientists have proven long ago that the Mayans did not predict an end to time, but this is probably overlooked because there is no advertising money to be had in producing shows that describe no end to the world.
However, in this state, most Oregonians will be looking to the skies for some fascinating revelations of a more scientific slant. The solstice occurs in the middle of the night, just after midnight on Thursday, according to OMSI's Jim Todd.
“Winter officially begins on Friday, December 21 at 3:12 a.m. in the Pacific Time Zone,” Todd said. “At that moment the sun, in the constellation of Sagittarius, sits over the Tropic of Capricorn at latitude of 23.5 degrees south. This date is the Winter Solstice, the day on which the Earth's northern pole is tipped away from the sun.”
When seen from Portland, the sun will reach its lowest point in the sky – in the south – at 21.5 degrees on the horizon.
Photographers: be prepared.
“Because of the low angle of the sun's arc, it will produce the longest and most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the year,”” Todd said. “On December 18-21, we will have nearly 8.5 hours of daylight to enjoy.”
On that Friday, Todd said the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at noon and at the same time, the region above the Arctic Circle will be in total darkness for 24 hours.
The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word “solstitium,” for sun-standing. This day is the time of the year when the sun stops its southern climb and stands briefly before turning back toward the equator.
There was much about the Solstice that upset our ancestors, creating a kind of pervasive fear. In fact, Todd said winter solstice celebrations were so widespread in our western culture that the early Christian church decided to move Christmas to the time of the solstice.
Another bigger fear has gripped the world this Solstice, because of a misguided interpretation of one small segment of Mayan writings. Many say these are prophecies spelling the end of the world on Friday.
The facts about those Mayan prophecies?
For one, according to Live Science and NBCnews.com, they were never prophecies in the first place. Secondly, there was until recently only one reference made to 2012 being an end – but not an end to time as a whole. In fact, both references (the latest found in 2010) refer to 2012 as being an end to a phase or cycle of time, an interval known as a “baktun,” each lasting 144,000 days. It simply states that another cycle would begin at that time.
Thirdly, no other Mayan writings found ever talked about such ends.
In fact, at least one of the “prophecy” writings that described the changing of a baktun reference events foretold in the year 4772. Mayan king Pacal of Palenque is predicted to return in 4772, or according to some interpretations he would mark the eighth time he would be crowned king.
Back to the present: Todd said from the perspective of those of us on Earth, the Sun will appear to stand still on the Solstice.
“Right after the solstice the Sun invariably started rising and setting a little bit farther north each day,” Todd said. “Our ancestors interpreted the sun's rising to mean that the world would not be plunged into eternal winter and that spring would once again eventually come”