I have got my man so well rugged up in layers against the cold. He even has an oilskin coat to go over that snazzy polar fleece. Even the dog has a lambswool lined oilskin coat.
So today, the shortest day, I was cold. I STOLE the layer under his polar fleece and he's not getting it back. — feeling comfortable.
Today was the shortest day of the year in Australia, and the longest in the northern hemisphere. And marking the occasion will be the launch of the first spaceship propelled by sunlight, Cosmos 1, which should be visible from Australia as a bright, moving star.
The shortest and longest days of the year are also known as the solstices. In Melbourne, the Sun will rise at 7.36am and set at 5.08am tomorrow, with just nine hours and 32 minutes of daylight. But six months from now, on December 21, we can expect a day 14 hours and 47 minutes long.
March 21 and September 21 are the equinoxes, when day and night the world over are exactly 12 hours.
This has nothing to do with the Earth-Sun distance. The reason we have solstices, and seasons, is because our planet is tilted at 23 degrees. In June, the southern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun and the northern hemisphere tilted towards the Sun; in December it's the reverse. In March and September, the hemispheres are not tilted at the Sun, but at right angles to it.
As a result of the tilt, in winter the Sun rises later and sets earlier, leading to less daylight. It also tracks a lower course through the sky, meaning its rays hit Australia at an oblique angle. These factors mean winter is colder.
"The (winter) solstice is the point where the Sun reaches the furthest north it will go in the sky, and then it turns back," said Martin Bush, a curator at the Melbourne Planetarium. "It was something that was noticed by ancient peoples . . . it's been a symbol of hope and our understanding of the cycles of the world."
The effects of the solstice are most extreme at the poles, and least extreme at the equator. That's why in parts of Antarctica the Sun cannot be seen during winter.
Solstices and equinoxes have prompted the building of monuments such as Stonehenge and have inspired many pagan festivals. The solstices are still observed by modern pagans.
But don't start looking forward to warmer weather. The National Climate Centre confirmed that July is indeed Melbourne's coldest month, and January the warmest. This is because, say meteorologists, the Earth's land and oceans take time to absorb and release the Sun's heat energy, leading to a seasonal lag.
"The oceans have thermal mass so they're still coming into equilibrium after the peak of radiation has been received," said Mr Bush.
Ryn Shell writes stories of crime, love and Australia.
artist and author
Formerly Kathy Shell of Buninyong Gallery.
The splendour of nature and the Australian bush captured in work of acclaimed artist Ryn (Kathy) Shell.
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