Today of course is the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, so we thought we’d share some lesser known facts about this special day and perhaps encourage a few of you to look at the sky and try your hand at taking some shots of our beautiful night sky.

1. Did you survive the end of the world?

 If you are reading this, I guess you did!  According to all the media hype the world was due to come to it’s final moments on this day in 2012!  This originated from Mayan theology, which stated that the world was created 5125 years ago, on a date we would write as “August 11, 3114  BC.”  At that time, the Mayan calendar would have looked like this: 13.0.0.0.0   On December 21st 2012, the Mayan Long Count calendar would have completed it’s cycle of 13 Bak’tuns and would also read 13.0.0.0.0   There is actually little evidence that the Mayan’s would see this as a destructive end, but more the case that their gods who created the world would have returned.

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2. It's actually the longest night ever!

Some science bloggers state that this winter solstice is longer than last year’s, in fact the earth’s spin is slowing down fractionally, around 2 milliseconds per year due to tidal friction and the pull of the moon; basically we are being stretched!

3. This might be the true birthday of Jesus

There is actually no reference to the 25th December in the bible.  In fact it’s believed that early Christians chose this date as it was already linked to the birthday of the Sun, the Pagan Saturnalia celebrations (Winter Solstice).  There’s lots of different dates rumoured for the real birth date of the messiah however we for one are happy with the 25th December – Merry Christmas!

4. It actually occurs at a specific time

Remember it’s the Earth that is moving not the sun, and we are tilted on an axis.  So the solstice is the point at which the sun is shining from the furthest point south.  This occurs around 12:11pm where the South Pole is tipped 23 degrees away from the sun.  Interesting sub-point here is that the mid-way point between the winter and summer solstice (Autumn Equinox) the earth is not tilted at all; we are not stretched on this day!

5. 17 Minutes of amazing light

There is an ancient monument in Ireland known as the Tomb of Newgrange, which was built more than 5000 years ago.  In the early hours of the Winter Solstice a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof of the tomb and hits the floor, gradually extending to the rear of the passage. As the sun rises higher, the sun beam widens to the point where the entire room becomes magically illuminated.  Quite amazing when you think this tomb was built about 500 years earlier than the Pyramids and a 1000 years before Stonehenge!

Image courtesy of Tip Finn
By Tjp finn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51765798