Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for June 3, 2009
Celebrate milestones of discovery at IYA2009 summer solstice
At 11:46 p.m. MDT on June 20, 2009 planet Earth will carry us through another summer solstice, and with this we will reach the middle of IYA2009, the year in which we celebrate scientific discovery during 400 years since Galileo first turned a telescope toward the heavens.
Recently astronauts worked for several days 350 miles above Earth’s surface to revitalize the Hubble Space Telescope, an instrument which represents the highest achievements of astronomy, indeed the greatest technological accomplishments in human history. What could more vividly portray the four-century transition of science than comparison of the enhanced Space Telescope with the tiny instrument used by Galileo? How far we have come in such a short time! What discoveries await us as we continue to explore? Let us, here in Kanab, engage in a summer solstice celebration of what science brings into our lives.
Summer solstice! The Sun reaches its most northern house, to begin its journey south once more. Earth cruises past the point in its orbit that results in the greatest tilt of the northern hemisphere toward the Sun, and all life responds.
Long days, short nights. No one seems to want to sleep, for it is time to celebrate the light!
In the town of Circle, Alaska the solstice party lasts all day. With its culmination at the mid-night hour, people watching the Sun graze the horizon, straight north.
At the North Pole, devoid of anyone to watch, daylight has already lasted for three months with no night and will continue for another three until, at the September equinox the Sun will drop below the horizon where it will remain for six months until it will reemerge at the March equinox.
People at the equator notice the northern and southern solar migration along the horizon, throughout the year, producing wet and dry seasons, but always it is steamy hot and always there are twelve hours light and twelve hours dark.
Southern tropic, temperate and Antarctic zones are the antithesis of the northern ones.
People always and everywhere have celebrated the June solstice. We can only imagine the rituals that took place at Stonehenge on the plain of Salisbury, but contemporary Druids gather there at “mid-summers day” to watch sunrise over the heelstone and claim their relationship with ancient British ancestors, imagining that they can recapture the essence of archaic ceremonies.
High in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming, Native Americans constructed and used a wheel made of stones with twenty-eight spokes and a clear summer solstice sunrise alignment. Again, we can not recapture the complete meaning behind that place, but modern Indians and Whites solstice there believing they feel connections to those who made the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.
Other new agers worship at their own personal medicine wheels or at locals in Zion Canyon, Sedona, Arizona and other sites they have declared to be "places of power." They flock to Chaco Canyon for solstice sunrise; with crystals in hand they surround the great kiva known as Casa Rinconada, humming chants they imagine to be ancient, singing the Sun across the sky, believing power can be transmitted into their lives in mystic fashion.
What really causes the solstice is nothing more nor less than the movement of Earth in an orbit that is tilted to the plane of the equator. This 23-½ degree tilt results in constantly changing solar illumination on the different latitudes of Earth.
The explanation is clear and easy to understand, yet the results are truly worth celebrating, for the varying flow of solar energy means everything to our lives. It is enjoyable and of value to understand what we can of the meanings these changes had to earlier people, but the question of genuine values arises when some want to ignore understanding in favor of explanations born in ignorance.
Indeed, there are people who behave as if they would discard knowledge and return to earlier times. The number expands amid troubles resulting from growing populations, byproducts of industry and deterioration of spiritual, family and community strengths. Do not such situations argue in favor of valuing knowledge rather than abolishing it? Isn''t it wiser to cherish the understandings we have gained through hard toil running throughout human history, and attempt with all diligence to apply knowledge with great care and sensitivity?
From earliest times until now, people have struggled to comprehend natural realities such as the causes of the solstices. They found interpretations that satisfied their needs and they used their understanding for improvement of their lives.
Differing cultures came into contact and shared their interpretations. Such toil and dialogue eventually led to science, an intellectual endeavor committed to free sharing of knowledge for all. Such knowledge is power, which when coupled with wisdom, can expand horizons beyond what is possible in any other way.
Yesterday we explored oceans and continents. Today we travel to the Moon and planets and explore with telescopes in Earth orbit. Remote stars beckon us toward tomorrow sunrises.
The people who constructed Stonehenge, those who built and used the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, and Ancestral Puebloans at Chaco Canyon, all experienced religious, political and ecological problems. So do we, in context with motivation to explore new frontiers. The problems and solutions are never easy.
Responsible and compassionate uses of knowledge, coupled with retention of solid ethical values, is vital to growth toward our human potentials.
What does all this have to do with the coming of the solstice each year? Annual repetitions are milestones of desired changes. Each time we arrive at solstitial points to enjoy increased illumination from the Sun, human history on planet
Earth has reaped one more year of increased knowledge from the labors of discovery. Four centuries ago Galileo peered through a tiny optic-tube to glimpse things not seen before. In 2009 the Hubble Telescope reveals glorious and distant vistas in detailed living color.
We can still look out from the center of Stonehenge to see the Sun rise over the heelstone as it did thousands of years ago, but looking around in all directions, at all times, yields knowledge that revises and refines what we treasured before. The traditions of earlier solstices belonged to the people of those generations, and solstice-by-solstice they transformed to become the ethos we claim as ours, here and now. We should honor and respect mores of past solstices, while we apply products of knowledge for the benefit of all mankind and the other creatures we share Mother Earth with.
For an exceptional opportunity of tuning into the heavens during June you can participate in the ninth annual four-day Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival taking place June 17-20. Dozens of telescopes and numerous activities will be offered at that pristine dark-sky location. You will find details listed on the Bryce Canyon National Park web site.
Finally, associated with the second annual Jacob Hamblin Days, anyone interested can gather around the fire for spontaneous sharing of stories about life in and around Kanab. This summer solstice celebration will be on Saturday, June 20, beginning at dusk at 1021 Country Club Drive (across the street from the Coral Cliffs Golf Course maintenance shed).