Why does the Earliest Sunset come before the Winter Solstice and the Latest Sunrise after?
Why does the Earliest Sunrise come before the Summer Solstice and the Latest Sunset after?
Ever wonder? I have. And aside from some hand-wavy explanations, I’ve never been able to explain this very well. Here’s the best explanation I have seen yet, provided in the December 2007 issue of Sky & Telescope, p. 55:
You’d think the earliest sunset would come on the shortest day (or longest night) of the year, at the winter solstice. But in fact, the day-night cycle shifts back and forth a little with the seasons, due to the tilt of Earth’s axis and the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit. At the beginning of December, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little earlier than they “should”, and in January they run a little late. So the earliest sunset ends up being two or three weeks before the solstice, and the latest sunrise is two or three weeks afterward. The exact dates depend on your latitude.
Continuing along that same line of thought…
At the beginning of June, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little later than they “should” and in July they run a little earlier. So the earliest sunrise ends up being about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset is about a week afterwards. The exact dates depend on your latitude.
I know, I know. You still have a question. “Why are the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset closer to the summer solstice than the dates of earliest sunset and latest sunrise to the winter solstice?” Good question. I think it has everything to do with the fact that the Earth is near aphelion at the time of the summer solstice, and thus moving most slowly in its orbit around the Sun (the Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical and not circular). That means that the Sun is moving slowest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is the smallest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunrise and latest sunset is less. Conversely, at the winter solstice, Earth is near perihelion, and therefore it is moving most quickly in its orbit around the Sun. That means that the Sun is moving fastest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is largest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise is more.
Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, where the latitude is just shy of 43˚ N and the longitude is just a tad over 90˚ W, the earliest sunset this year is today, Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 4:25:49 p.m.
Latest sunrise in 2021 will be on both Saturday, January 2 and Sunday, January 3 at 7:31:51 a.m.
Pause to consider that if we were on year-round daylight saving time, latest sunrise wouldn’t be until 8:31:51 a.m.
Though Trump lost his 2020 re-election bid, the fact that he polled so well throughout the anything-but-United States clearly shows the “Party of Trump”—today’s Republican Party—is leading us towards something far more sinister. The Republican Party of our parents’ generation would never have elected such a damaged person to the highest office in our land. Trump’s narcissism, ineptitude, lying, corruption, nepotism, divisiveness, etc. has been an unmitigated nightmare these past four long years. If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you take the time to view the three-part documentary series Rise of the Nazis airing this month on PBS Wisconsin. There are parallels to what is happening in the U.S. today, and it is chilling.
As for the voters who continue to support this charade, we are witnessing in living color government by people who don’t believe in government—or good governance. The landscape looks pretty bleak in this country for progressives and intellectuals for the foreseeable future. Might want to leave while you still can.
Has the whole country gone mad? Well, not all of it. Here are the ten states where Trump and Trumpism were most soundly rejected in the 2020 election.
% Voting for Trump
District of Columbia
States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election
And here are the ten states you’ll probably want to think twice about moving to if you’re a progressive.
% Voting for Trump
States where Voters Most Supported Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election
Now, let’s return to the ten states that most soundly rejected Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Which county in each of these states had the smallest percentage voting for Trump?
Most Trump-Unfavorable Counties in States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election
Polarization is tearing this country apart, but the blame does not equally fall on both sides. How do you talk with someone who all-too-willingly embraces conspiracy theories rather than reason, who derides science and scholars, who mistrusts or worse yet hates anyone who has a different spiritual viewpoint, let alone is a humanist, agnostic, or atheist? Who shows little or no interest in understanding perspectives other than their own?
May I submit for your consideration, the March 4, 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.
Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers…throw them into darkness for a few hours and then you just sit back and watch the pattern.
And this pattern is always the same?
With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and it’s themselves. And all we need do is sit back…and watch.
Then I take it this place…this Maple Street…is not unique.
[Shaking his head.] By no means. Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other…one to the other…one to the other—
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn. [A pause.] And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined to…The Twilight Zone…
Obviously, this is going to be easier to do in a small community, and most likely one that is economically depressed.
What’s in it for them? What would the motivating factors be?
A commitment from X number of people that they would move to the community provided the community agrees to 1-3 above being done. Options for new residents would be to either purchase or rent an existing home/apartment/RV space/etc., or to build the same but land would have to be available.
The new residents would commit to working with the existing residents and businesses to improve the community and provide new opportunities, ensuring that this is a win-win situation for both existing and new residents.
The new residents would commit to doing some or all of the things outlined in the Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document, or something like it.
The influx of new residents and tourism will benefit all in the community, both economically and socially.
Does anyone know of a rural community that might be interested in putting their town “on the map” as an astronomy-friendly community for residents and visitors?
A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells
One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.
I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:
Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
Binding and enforceable international laws
A stronger and more effective United Nations
A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail
I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)
There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?
We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.
What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?
Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern
1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.
A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.
There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.
Challenges, large and small.
Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people Livin’ for today Ah
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too
Imagine all the people Livin’ life in peace You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people Sharing all the world You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will live as one
The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.
The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.
Some challenges we face:
Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?
Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.
Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.
Issuance of Shares
1 share = $1000
No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
1 share = 1 vote
Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.
Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community
Posted 13 July 2020
I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!
I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).
One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.
All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.
Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.
There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.
Lighting at Mirador
I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.
Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.
There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.
The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.
We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.
Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.
Post a comment here!
Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.
As long as Americans continue to suffer and die from the coronavirus pandemic, we will need to exercise an abundance of caution, regardless of what some might tell us. In the map below, you will find which counties in the United States reported new coronavirus deaths (shown in red) and, if there were no additional deaths, which counties reported new coronavirus positive cases (shown in orange) during the most recent reporting day. I will update this map each day until the pandemic has ended. Be safe!
Climate change is a serious problem requiring immediate attention. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere as fast as possible. Half measures will not do. We are rapidly running out of time before the quality of life for all humans on planet Earth declines, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
A precipitous decline in biological diversity due to habitat loss and extinction of species is of greater concern, and yet it gets very little attention in the mainstream media. While climate change will render large areas of the Earth uninhabitable, biodiversity loss will lead to a partial or complete collapse of the ecosystem humans depend upon for food.
Getting even less attention is the cause of both of these problems: overpopulation. If you were born in 1973, the world’s human population is now twice what it was then. If you were born in 1952, there are three times as many people alive now than there were then. We have a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency because we have a population emergency. The number of humans on this planet needs to decline, and the only humane way to accomplish that is to have fewer children. It is that simple.
And, yet, we often see this or that news article lamenting the fact that the birth rate in this or that country is too low. That’s crazy! A low birth rate should be a cause for celebration given the current state of the world and its environment. Certainly, a low birth rate does lead to some economic challenges, but these pale in comparison to the challenges we will face if population (and consumption) continue to grow.
As a humanist, I believe that we should do all we can to alleviate and eliminate human suffering. It is our highest moral calling. To be sure, some human suffering is inevitable and necessary when an individual makes poor decisions and suffers the consequences before hopefully making a mid-course correction. But the kind of suffering I am talking about is suffering that is imposed upon a person through no fault of their own, be it the cruelty of other human beings, or the cruelty of nature.
In this light we can see that our economic systems, governments, and most religions are utterly failing us. Nothing short of drastic changes will solve these problems. May wisdom, intelligence, ingenuity, and compassion guide us, rather than fear, ignorance, hatred, and dogma.
There is an organization dedicated to stabilizing human population throughout the world by lowering the birth rate: Population Connection. I encourage you to support their work as I do.
Are any of you nearing retirement (as I am) or already retired who might be interested in moving to an astronomy-oriented retirement community? If you are, I encourage you to join the moderated Groups.io discussion group Dark-Sky Communities at
I am working to establish such a community and would value your input and assistance. That work involves extensive research, networking, writing articles in various publications to reach a wider audience, finding a suitable developer, and seeking benefactors.
Some characteristics of the community I envision include:
Rural location with a dark night sky, but not too far from a city with decent medical facilities, preferably to the northeast or northwest;
Location with an abundance of clear nights and mild winters, probably in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas;
Lighting within the community that does not interfere with astronomical activities, strictly enforced;
Community is owned and operated by a benefit corporation or cooperative that will rent a house or apartment to each resident;
Observatories will be available for rental by interested residents who will equip them;
Pro-am collaborative research opportunities will be developed and nurtured;
A community observatory and a public observatory for astronomy outreach will be constructed and maintained;
Lodging will be available for visitors and guests;
There will be opportunities for on-site income operating and maintaining the community or, alternatively, a reduction in monthly rental fees.
Many of us have spent a significant amount of time and energy over the years trying to rein in light pollution in our respective communities and in the wider world, with varying degrees of success. Those efforts should continue, but the grim reality is that light pollution is continuing to get worse almost everywhere.
The opportunity to live in a community of varied interests but with a common appreciation for the night sky and a natural nighttime environment will appeal to many of us. Furthermore, a dark-sky community will afford us opportunities to show the world at large a better way to live.
Traditionally, in the United States at least, if one wants to live under a dark and starry night sky, your only options are to purchase land and build a house on it, or purchase an existing rural home. Not only is buying and maintaining rural real estate unaffordable or impractical for many, many would prefer to live in a rural community, provided that the night sky and nighttime environment are vigorously protected. Rental will also make it easier to move into and out of the community as circumstances change.
My current company, despite my objections and expertise, is
phasing out SAS, and I think it is a misguided decision.
I am only about three years away from semi-retirement, but
you won’t find a more motivated worker.
Not only am I a top flight SAS programmer with many years of experience,
but I’m also very good at teaching and mentoring others in the use of
SAS—something I almost never get to do in my current position.
I need a change.
I have “big city” job skills in a small town where there
appear to be no other employers who would be able to make use of my SAS
expertise. And, at this stage of my
life, I can’t relocate and am unwilling to commute, so working from home
appears to be the only option.
I’m looking at potential opportunities as an “encore career” and would really like to do something that directly benefits society. I loved my 21 years at the Iowa Department of Transportation, and would love to be a public servant once again, or to work for a nonprofit organization. Or work on scientific projects—true science, not data “science”. Or, data for good projects. Both salary and number of work hours (up to full time) are completely negotiable. I’m at a point now in my career where I can be more flexible for the right opportunity.
I have my own personal SAS Analytics Pro license, so could
do work for you even if you don’t have SAS.
SAS is a great product, and SAS Institute is a great
company. And SAS keeps getting better
all the time.
Some say that SAS is difficult to learn, but, like many things, it is not difficult at all if you have a good teacher who has a thorough understanding of the subject matter and a passion for teaching it. That would be me.
Has anyone else noticed how Alliant Energy is gradually replacing our orangish-white-light streetlights with bluish-white-light ones? The orangish-white-light streetlights are high-pressure sodium (HPS) with a correlated color temperature (CCT) of 1900K, whereas the bluish-white-light streetlights that are replacing them are LED with a CCT of 4000K, and, most notably, they are two and a half times as bright.
Even though I have written to both Alliant Energy and the City of Dodgeville, nothing has changed.
My questions, which are still unanswered:
What is the justification for increasing the streetlighting illumination level by two and a half times over what it has been for decades?
Why are we going from 1900K to 4000K (cold white), when 2700K or 3000K (warm white) is readily available and being used in many communities in the U.S. and Canada?
This same transformation is happening in Mineral Point, and probably many other communities in SW Wisconsin as well.
Is anyone else noticing how this is profoundly changing the rural character of our nighttime environment? Is anyone else concerned about this? The increase in glare and light trespass onto neighboring properties from these new LED lights is quite noticeable to me, even though they are nominally full-cutoff. Why? They are too bright, and too blue.
If anyone locally is reading Cosmic Reflections (and sometimes I wonder if anyone is…), and if you have noticed and are alarmed by these streetlighting changes, please contact me on blog or off blog (oesper at mac.com) and let’s meet and discuss a plan of action. Something needs to be done before it is too late and we are stuck with this very negative change to our nighttime environment.