Though we are now seeing less and less of our closest star (in the Northern Hemisphere), the Sun will soon be returning! For me, the Winter Solstice is a celebration of all stars, near and far, ancient and current.
Here near the beginning of the year, the Solstice reminds us of both our star and those which formed near the beginning of our history, after the Big Bang had produced mostly hydrogen, and the elements which make up planets and life did not exist. It took stars to fuse hydrogen and helium into these elements, which we are made of today.
Winter Solstice celebrations already have so much that fits this theme, from the stars atop Solstice trees, to strings of lights that give points of light like distant stars. In fact, looking at the stars on a dark night (and of course using telescopes) shows that they, like many of the strings of lights around us, have different colors. From the glowering red of Aldebaran, to blazing blue of Spica! This season often features decorations of gold and silver – two elements formed only in the supernova deaths of stars, another one of the many gifts our stellar Ancestors have given us.
The Hertzsprung–Russell diagram (discovered separately by Drs. Hertzsprung and Russell) appears when one simply plots the brightness of each star against it’s color (it’s surface temperature). This surprisingly easy discovery then maps out the life process of stars, showing how they start, age, and die. Of course, all the details of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, and of stellar life cycles, is much more complicated and beyond the scope of this blog post – but it is a fascinating way to learn about some of our Ancestors.
The stars touch our lives in many other ways in addition to calling to mind our Ancestor stars. These reach to many different times in our history, from the formation of the solar system through human exploration and our own Wheel of the Year. Some of these are explored in the video here, which a friend posted the other day, just in time for Solstice! This can be played for the whole family, helping to show our kids the wonderful Universe we live in, and why we honor our closest star on Solstice night (and/or day).
Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host
We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.