The two Solstices are the only universal holidays I celebrate. There many personal holidays, almost all anniversaries of whatever happened that day: births, weddings, deaths; the arcs of jobs and love affairs; graduations and engagements; all the milestones of life. (The trick is to avoid Marley’s chains and chests.)
When it comes to the world, I see only two true holidays whose meaning every mind on Earth shares; two that everyone can anticipate and appreciate. These holidays are defined by the star that gives us life. They mark our orbit as precisely as the numbers of a clock mark the hours.
In fact there are four such star-marked days; two major, two minor.
What do Pluto (the planet), Queen guitarist Brian May, the Israeli Beresheet lunar lander, tardigrades, comedian Dave Chappelle, and Netflix, all have in common?
Firstly, that they’ve all been very prominent in my news reader (and perhaps yours as well). Secondly, they all deal with socially divisive things (some more than others). Thirdly, they all caught my eye because they have to do with things I feel a bit strongly about (some more than others).
Let me explain…
On the one hand, global climate change is likely to make things very — strictly in the curse sense — “interesting” for the human race as this millennium progresses. The effects already are obvious, visual, striking, and — one would think — undeniable.
Randall Munroe, of xkcd, has created another of his brilliant graphics, this one showing the history of climate change. It’s well-worth checking out (do it now). It makes the point in a visually striking, and — one would think — undeniable way.
On the other hand, it’s very — in the usual sense — “interesting” that we’re here at all.
It’s one of those days you remember better than any birthday or wedding. Those were planned; these hit you suddenly, stunning your mind, breaking your heart. “The shuttle blew up!” “The Towers fell!”
The impact was even greater if you saw it happen in real-time. If you watched the shuttle launches. If you caught the breaking news before the second tower was hit. Saw the second plane, realized at that moment, “This is no accident!”
Even if you saw it after, you saw it; saw it as an attack.
It’s Friday, and I’m sure you’re thinking about the weekend, so today will be just a review and some more details about the speed of light.
And speaking of light, today is the Vernal Equinox. For the next six months (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), our days will be longer than our nights. No doubt the combination of spring, the Equinox, and the weekend, have you wondering what you’re doing at your computer reading about Special Relativity.
So I’ll try to be very brief…
Those who know me know that I’m not big on calendar holidays. Even my birthday tends to pass without fanfare. That comes from being single, the island that supposedly no one is. After a lifetime of Christmas and New Years’ being ordinary days, you get used to it.
But I do honor the Solar Event Days because (as I’ve mentioned many times) light is so important to me (and because I’m a geek). Christmas may not mean much to me, but the Winter Solstice does! The days finally start getting longer! Summer Solstice is a day of mourning for the opposite reason.
Today — the Autumnal Equinox — marks the halfway point.
Tonight’s sky holds a half-moon that looks somewhat like the picture on the right. Can you tell me, just by the picture, is the moon getting bigger or getting smaller?
Of course the moon isn’t really changing size. We use the shorthand “bigger” and “smaller” to refer to how much of the moon we see. Or more properly, how much of the moon is illuminated by the sun. Or even more properly, how much of the moon’s surface facing the Earth is illuminated by the sun.
You can see why we often just say it’s getting “bigger” or “smaller!” Or we can use the terms waxing (getting bigger) and waning (getting smaller).
So can you tell, from the picture, is the moon tonight waxing or waning?