This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason
Groundhog Day is on or near one of the cross-quarter days of the year, which lie halfway between a solstice and an equinox. Solstices are what we call the first days of summer and winter, when the sun rises and sets at its farthest points north and south. The name implies the sun is stationary, like a yo-yo that has reached the end of the string. Equinoxes occur when the sun rises due east and sets due west. Prior to the reformation of the calendar under Pope Gregory XIII, the spring equinox occurred on March 16, six weeks after February 2, hence the tongue-in-cheek prediction of the groundhog adopted in North America.
Pagan cultures celebrated the solstices and equinoxes and, always up for a party, the cross-quarter days as well. Many considered this day to be the start of spring, a reasonable belief in warmer climates than we enjoy. Bears emerging from their dens, ewes lactating prior to birthing, and the lengthening days were all signs that winter had been broken. Irish folk celebrated Imbolc at this time to honour the coming of the spring lambs.
Other cross-quarter days occur around the beginning of May, August and November, yielding such festivities as Walpurgis or May Day, and All Hallows Day with its more famous celebration of Halloween. The August quarter day has a related festival in Greece. For those who bemoan our long winters, take heart in knowing that our spring to autumn period is a week longer than autumn to spring. Earth is at its farthest from the sun in early July, therefore it travels more slowly in its orbit at that time.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:40 am and sunset will occur at 5:25 pm, giving 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 5:32 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:31 am and set at 5:35 pm, giving 10 hours, 4 minutes of daylight (7:34 am and 5:42 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is near Saturn this Saturday morning and is new on Monday. Venus and Jupiter compete for attention in the morning, with Venus heading toward a rendezvous with Saturn in a couple of weeks. Mars holds its sunset position in the southwest, setting around 11:30 pm and awaiting some company from Mercury.
The Saint John Astronomy Clubs meets on February 9 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.