Today, 21 December, the Northern hemisphere of the Earth comes the shortest day of the year, and on the South the longest. The coming night, by contrast, will be to the North of the equator the longest. This astronomical event is called the winter solstice. It marks the start of “astronomical winter” in Eurasia, North America and most of Africa, and “astronomical summer” in Australia and South America.
As explained in the Moscow planetarium, today the Sun moving along the Ecliptic, reaches the most remote position from the celestial equator towards the South pole of the world. This event sometimes falls on 22 Dec, but most often — including this year — on 21 number. “Solstice” today is called because the Sun, which by midday will reach a height of about 11 degrees above the horizon for some time as though “freezes” in that position.
Winter solstice — as, indeed, and summer — has played a big role in many pagan cultures. Often seen as a symbol of rebirth — the next day the days start to get longer and longer, and people saw the symbol of victory of light over darkness . Celebrations associated with this day were not always strictly linked to it from the astronomical point of view, however, was devoted to this phenomenon.
On the significance of the winter solstice shows, including, the design of many ancient archaeological sites — for example, the main axis of Stonehenge in the UK is aligned with the visual line indicates the sunset at the winter solstice. In the Slavic tradition with the winter solstice is linked to the Christmas carols, the Germanic peoples — Yule, and in Ancient Rome for this event was to mark the “birthday of the invincible sun”. In Greek mythology, the days of the summer and winter solstice was only in the year that Hades was allowed to leave the underworld and appearing on mount Olympus.
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