Happy Winter Solstice, or Yule! Of course, our spherical planet also gives us the beautiful symmetry of the Summer Solstice (Litha) being celebrated now by our Southern Hemisphere friends. For all of us, this year brings us the special treat of a full moon on the Solstice!
Some of the ways many of us are celebrating were published a few weeks ago. I hope all the preparations haven’t been too busy for you – but whether they have or not, now is the time to relax and celebrate! Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly prepared, after all.
I really like learning something new. Learning things that enhance holidays right before the holiday is nice. I found out two cool facts about the December Solstice this week! After celebrating the December Solstice (Winter for me), for over 20 years, I’m surprised never knew this.
The first one is that in 1898, Marie Curie discovered radium (88Ra) on the Winter Solstice! Radium’s name comes from the Latin word for “ray”, because radium emits rays of gamma radiation. Gamma radiation is simply light – but it is light that is so much bluer than blue (a shorter wavelength, by far, than violet or even ultraviolet – UV- light), that we can’t see it. Specifically, blue light has a wavelength of around 470,000 nm, while gamma light has a wavelength of only about 1 nm. So a source of this incredibly powerful (and dangerous) light, an element named after a ray of light, was discovered on the Winter Solstice, when light returns!
And of course, there is the inspiring story of Dr. Curie herself. In a world so openly sexist as that of the late 1800’s, she was able to succeed, and now is one of only a handful of people with an element name for them (and one of only two women).
The other inspiring Solstice factoid is that Apollo 8 launched on the Winter Solstice, 1968. This aptly named program (Apollo is the god of learning, science, truth, music, archery and more), Apollo has been (at times) the god of the Sun itself (at some times in history this has been separated for his son, Helios). As the god of the Sun, it is fitting that his twin sister (Artemis, also an archery deity) is the goddess of the Moon. What could be more fitting for the Winter Solstice! And, of special importance, it was this mission which gave us the stunning and culture changing Earthrise photo – our first view ever of our fragile, precious home. With a full moon on the Solstice this year, we can appreciate the Earth, the Sun and the Moon.
For these and so many other reasons, may your Solstice be blessed! The original article I saw these in is here.