The Winter Solstice

This post is a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Forget Wallace and Gromit, presents and sprouts and heavy metal versions of famous carols (for a moment). A winter festival has been celebrated across Europe since pagan times. The festival of Yule, which was later Christianised into Christmas was a celebration of the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the exact point in time where the plane of the equator is at its largest angle from the plane of the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth's orbit around the sun). This happens at different times during the year and it is related to the length of the daytime. This year it is happening today at twenty-eight minutes past four (which is the same time this article was posted).

Noon for me on today at my location in Northern Europe. The diagram shows the position of the sun in the sky relative to my horizon. You can also see how the sun has reached the largest angle relative to the ecliptic.

I use Sunrise Sunset for Android. This app automatically detects your location, although you can manually select a city from one of many. It tells you the sunrise and sunset times for your location, including Astronomical, Nautical, Civil and 'Official' times (presumably info you will need depending on whether you are an astronomer or a pirate).

The 3D view lets you see the position of the Sun relative to the Earth for your location as a 3D globe which can be rotated to get the best view. It is this that you can see in the image above.

Also included are the rise and set times for planets and the moon which would be of use to all amateur astronomers. 

The adverts can be a little obtrusive at times, but it only costs £1.18 for the version without them.