Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, and Analemmas

Here’s a word for you: Analemma 

I just learned the word today, but I’ve been fascinated by them for years. About 20 years ago, we bought a globe on a stand for our living room. I began checking it whenever the news focused on a country I knew little about. Then at one point I became curious about that figure eight out in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. Without bothering to learn its name, I learned that it shows the position of the Sun relative to some point on the Earth as the Earth and Sun move around in the sky. 

Then during one long, dreary December, I realized that the analemma explained why December takes forever to get past the darkness while June speeds through the wonderful long days around the summer solstice. Check it out. See the curves at the top and bottom of the figure eight? See  how sharp the curve is at the top (that would be the summer solstice). See how broad the curve is at the bottom (that would be the winter solstice). Clever, hmm. Don’t believe me? Check this resource.

Question: Is the summer solstice a long and drawn out affair in the southern hemisphere and the winter solstice abrupt? I’m betting on yes.

So there’s a lesson for you, and now on to a related, but thornier issue: Daylight Saving Time. Good? Bad? Leave it as is? Throw it out completely? It turns out that DST has a much longer history than I knew about. None other than Benjamin Franklin put forth the idea (satirically?) In 1784. It was discussed in many times and places thereafter, and was first implemented in Port Arthur, Ontario, in 1908. Germans implemented it in 1916. The US used it for seven months during WW I, after which it became known as “War Time.” It appeared again during WW II, then went dormant (with local option) until 1966. 

The nickname of War Time seems appropriate as it could be the issue that drives the US toward a second civil war. Image the US Senate agreeing on anything, much less a bill to make DST permanent, only to discover that half the country would rather go to war with the other half than let DST become permanent. 

Why not let organizations decide if they want to make employees get up an hour earlier for half the year or punish them with shorter evenings. Let individual school districts decide if they want kids trotting off to school in total darkness. Seriously. It’s controlled chaos now; let’s go for total chaos instead. 

What about abandoning DST and just using standard time everywhere year round? Somehow the world survived on that since before people could measure time, before we invented devices to help us gather at agreed upon times. (Seriously, I can’t even image those days. “See you at whenever!”) We could do it again! 

We spent one summer in southeast Alaska, and I well remember the trip home. We were on our own boat, so it was a ten day trip south to Seattle. We left AK around August 10, so days were already getting shorter. But they were still long summer days as we left Craig, AK. But cruising south as the days shortened dramatically enhanced the effect of rapidly losing hours of sunlight. You’ll see that effect on that analemma we talked about earlier. Just look at the space between days where the figure crosses over itself. That space represents how much change there is in the length of the days (I think). 

According to Wikipedia, locations near the equator, where the length of days doesn’t change much throughout the year, and locations near the poles, where days are dramatically different from summer to winter, are not much interested in DST. Supposedly, it’s farmers in the midwest who care. But I doubt that story totally. Farmers lives are geared toward the real world of when the cows need attention, when the crops are ready to harvest, when the actual real world says plant, weed, water, harvest. Clocks are irrelevant. So leave the farmers alone. It’s we urbanites who think tinkering with nature is our right. 

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