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Starry Heavens Newsletter
December 2017

The December Solstice is Upon Us

The December Solstice occurs December 21, at 6:28am HAST. Most people think the solstice is a whole day. However, the Solstice is actually at a specific moment - when the Sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. The term solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, meaning 'the Sun stands still'. This is because on this day, the Sun reaches its southern-most position as seen from the Earth. The Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction.

Solstices happen twice a year - once around June 21 and then again around December 21. Technically the December Solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23. However, December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.

On the June Solstice, the Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere, while on the December Solstice, the Sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the December Solstice is the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers and scientists use the December Solstice to mark the start of the winter season, which ends on the March Equinox. 
In the Southern Hemisphere, the December Solstice is the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It marks the start of summer in the southern hemisphere and also ends on the March Equinox.

Meteorologists generally mark the winter season in the northern hemisphere and the summer season in the southern hemisphere several weeks earlier around the first of December. Seasons do not occur based on how far the Earth is from the Sun rather due to the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun on a slant because of its axial tilt. Thus, the differing amounts of sunlight reaching the northern and southern hemispheres cause variations in temperatures that affect the weather patterns in each hemisphere.

For ancient peoples and cultures the shorter days with less sunlight were unsettling. Many traditions revolved around actions to bring the Sun back. For example, the Norse people called the days of nearly 24 hours of darkness “Jol” which was also related to the Wiccan Yule tradition of celebrating the rebirth of the Sun and the return of longer days of sunlight.

The ancient feast of Jol was a pre-Christian feast observed in the northern countries of Scandinavia where there was an absence of sunlight. Bonfires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving attributes of the Sun. A log (commonly referred to as a Jul log) was burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor.The present day customs of lighting Yule logs at Christmas is believed to have originated in the bonfires of the ancient Scandinavian feasts of Jol.
 
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The Moons of December

photo courtesy Linda Rasmussen

While the solstice events were important events that were tracked and predicted by ancient observers, the moon was also very important. 
For millennia, people across Europe, as well as Native American tribes, named the moons after features they associated with the Northern Hemisphere seasons, and many of these names are very similar or identical. For example, in most parts of the northern hemisphere, December is the month when winter begins in earnest. Thus, the names for the December full moon relate to the fact that the shortest day of the year occurs in December and often the coldest days of the year occur in December. The most common names for the December full moon are “Long Night Moon”, Moon before Yule, and Cold Moon.

Even in Hawaii, people comment on how cold it is in December. While Hawaii winters are deliciously warm compared to other areas of the Northern Hemisphere, they can be cooler than at other times during the year. Just the other day I heard several people comment: “It was so cold I needed the fleece blanket last night.”

When the "Full Cold Moon" rises on Dec. 3, it will also be the first and last "Supermoon" of 2017.  Supermoons occur when a full moon coincides with the moon’s perigee, that is, a point when the moon’s orbit brings it closest to Earth.  Supermoons generally look 14% larger and 30% brighter than usual. The supermoon image above was taken November 3, 2016 in Lanikai.
 
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Season of Light

In keeping with the season we are showing “Season of Light” twice in December, Saturday, December 9, at 1p.m. and Friday, December 22, at 7 p.m.  This lovely show is a family friendly, visually rich show about the darkest and coldest days of the year explaining the seasons and tracing the origins of many of the world’s most enduring customs common to this time of year. 


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Reservations Suggested
Due to limited seating of 84 attendees in the Imaginarium, we recommend making reservations for our programs. Call (808) 235-7433 between 8:30am - 3:30pm, Monday - Friday. Reservation phone line is not available on weekends or holidays.

Our new admission prices beginning August 2017 are:
  • $8 General admission
  • $7 WCC students, military, seniors (65 years or older), with ID
  • $6 Children (ages 4-12 years)
  • Free for children under 4 years of age (1 per paying adult), and WCC faculty or staff with university ID
  • CASH & CHECK ONLY.  

Please pick up and pay for reserved tickets at the Imaginarium Box Office at least 15 minutes prior to showtime. Unclaimed tickets may be sold to waiting customers on a first come, first served basis.
 
 
Please visit and LIKE our WCC Imaginarium Facebook Page.

 
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As always, we welcome your feedback or questions, feel free to phone (808) 235-7350 or email to dineene@hawaii.edu. If you would like information regarding our Adopt-a-Show sponsorship program please click here.
 
Dineene O'Connor
Manager, Hōkūlani Imaginarium
Windward Community College
Hale Imiloa 135A
Office (808) 235-7350

 
Season of Light
Saturday, December 9,
1:00pm
 
Perfect Little Planet
Saturday, December 9,
2:00pm
 
Stargazing
with Krissie Kellogg
Wednesday, December 13,
7:00pm
Season of Light
Friday,December 22,
7:00 pm 

Led Zeppelin
Friday, December 22
8:15pm
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