The shortest day, the longest night, for those of us who reside in the Northern climes Winter Solstice is here. The sun reaches is most Southern destiny and touches for but a moment, the Tropic of Capricorn and immediately reverses her course. That moment occurred early this morning at 5:02 AM ET. Sky watchers this year are in for a treat as Jupiter ans Saturn will travel together across the evening sky appearing to be a single planet in what astronomers call a conjunction. This is the closest they have come since 1623.
The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years.
What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”
The closest alignment will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and last for a few days. On the 21st, they will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky. The planets will be easy to see with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.
From our vantage point on Earth the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth. [..]
For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do:
- Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
- An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
- The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.
If the skies are very clear the conjunction may be seen in the southwestern sky shortly after dark on December 21, and it should be visible from roughly 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Jupiter and Saturn will be very close together. Anyone will be able to see the pair with unaided eyes. No telescope or binoculars is required, but a magnified view through a Griffith Observatory telescope will be live streamed. You can also observe both planets and their moons through your own telescope. If the sky is too cloudy where you are, you can watch it here from the Mount Wilson Observatory in California starting at 8 PM ET.
Besides this special celestial event, the Winter Solstice is a special night for those who practice the craft and has a rich history from many cultures. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. It is one of the eight holidays, or Sabbats, that are held sacred by Wiccans and Pagans around the world. In Celtic traditions it is the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King:
the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.
The re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.
As we prepare for the longest night, we decorate our homes with red, green and white, holly, ivy, evergreen and pine cones. We honor the solar year with light. We place candles in the windows facing the North, South, East and West to ward off the darkness and celebrate the return of the sun/ With the setting sun, fires are lit in hearths and fire pits and kept burning to keep us warm until Sol returns at dawn.
There is food a plenty, roasts and stews and winter vegetables and sweets, chocolate and peppermint candy, apples and oranges and sweet breads. All these reminding us of the last harvest, the gifts of Gaia, Mother Earth and the hunts by Hern of the Wild Hunt. Of course there will be honeyed and spiced wine and hearty, dark beers, some made by friends who will join the festivities.
What ever your beliefs, or none, may the traditions and celebrations bring you peace and joy. Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns.