Winter Solstice: Earthworms twist

June 25th, 2012
by Jo Law

In Wollongong (34º26’S 150º54E), the sun ‘stood still’ and climbed no higher than 32.2º altitude from June 16th to June 25th. On June 21st, the sun rose at 07:03 and set at 16:54. The day length was 9 hours 50 minutes and 59 seconds; it was the shortest day of the year: the June Solstice. On that day at 09.09 local time (EST), the sun reached its lowest point in the sky. On the imaginary ecliptic the sun is passing through the celestial longitude of 90º. At Casey, Antarctica (66º17’S, 110º32’E), the shortest day was 2 hours 29 minutes and 15 seconds long when the sun made a brief appearance from 11:25 to 13:54. Further south at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (90º00’S 0º00’E), after setting on March 22nd, the sun will not another appearance until September 20th, after when it will stay above the horizon for another 6 months. In the northern hemisphere, June 21st was Summer Solstice. In Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon Territory, Canada (60º43’N 135º03’W), the sun rose at 04:27 and set at 23:37 giving its inhabitants 19 hours 9 minutes and 16 seconds of daylight. Within the Arctic Circle in Hammerfest, Norway (70ª40’N 23º41’E), one of the northmost cities in the world, the sun has failed to set since May 14th. When it finally sinks below the horizon again at 23.52 on July 30th, the brief night will only be 4 minutes long.

In many cultures, both the longest and shortest days are marked with festivities. In northern Europe, bonfires feature highly in the Summer Solstice celebration. Midsummer is made into St. John’s feast day, St. John’s Eve, or the nativity of John the Baptist in the Christian calendar – much like the transformation of Winter Solstice into the nativity of Jesus (Christmas). For the different peoples indigenous to the South American continent, the June Solstice marks their new year. Indeed for most cultures, the Winter Solstice is much more significant as a marker in time than its summer counterpart. As the day begins to grows longer, the sun climbs higher in the sky, the end of winter is in sight. However, the shortest day with the least insolation does not entail the coldest day. The large bodies of water on Earth have the effect of delaying the effects of both heating and cooling. Known as seasonal lag, the coldest month is yet to come.

Winter Solstice is the turning point in the Chinese Almanac when the ascension of the yin reaches as its peak. Soon yin will begin to fade as yang begins to rise. At this time, in the presence of yin, earthworms are said to twist and curl. These creatures burrow further underground to avoid freezing and drying in the cold weather. They curl up into tight balls, lower their metabolic rate and enter a state of inactivity. For those raising worms for vermiculite, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of food fed to the worms.

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