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Vernal Equinox Part II – Festivals, Goddesses, Sunspot Cycles March 20, 2017

March 19, 2017

This year we report on that other large object in the sky,
known as the sun.

Vernal Festivals
The vernal equinox, by any name, has been a major cultural event around the world for millennia.  Of course, the farther one lives from the equator, the more noticeable are seasonal variations in daylight and warmth, and the more important these events become.  Cultures from around the world – including Japan, China, Iran, Russia, Egypt, Scandinavia, Scotland and throughout the Americas – developed their own festivals celebrating the vernal equinox and the onset of springtime.

The Snake of SunlightMain pyramid, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

The Snake of Sunlight — Main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
(CostinT from Timeanddate.com)

Easter is the best known vernal festival in the western world.
Goddess of the Dawn to the Greeks was Eos (Aurora to the Romans), born of Titan parents, sister to sun-god Helios (Roman Sol Invictus) and moon-goddess Selene (Roman Luna), and mother of the four winds.  The name originates in the ancient Indo-European language, predecessor to nearly all European, Indian and Persian languages, and was Ostara (later Ostern) to the Germans, and Eastre in Old English and Ester in Middle English, from whence we get both East and Easter.  The early Christian church was good at co-opting festivals from other religions and peoples. So, the spring festival of Eos (by whatever local name variation) became Easter, re-configured to memorialize the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Spring festivals typically mark the end of the wintery season of death and the rebirth into spring, when plants bloom and animals bear their young.  The origin of the

Red Easter Eggs symbolize the blood of JesusWikipedia

Red Easter Eggs symbolize the blood of Jesus
(Wikipedia – Easter Eggs)

Easter Egg custom is complex: part obvious fertility symbol, part recognition of the end of Christian Lent (during which eggs were forbidden), part early Mesopotamian Christian symbol for the death of Jesus,  and part empty-shell symbol of the empty tomb of Jesus.  Easter is scheduled for the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, a formula which indirectly led to Western Europe’s replacement of the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

Sunspot Cycles
The sunspot cycle is driven by cyclic fluctuations in both polarity and strength of the solar magnetic field. On average, these magnetic poles reverse polarity – north magnetic pole becomes south magnetic pole and vice versa –  every 11.1 years, then does it again, for an average total of  22.2 years.  The Sunspot minimum period surrounds this polar flip: for example, current Cycle 24 began 1/4/2008 when at solar 30° north a sunspot appeared with polarity magnetically reversed from existing sunspots, the sign of a polar flip. That year was later ‘voted’ the “blankest year of the space age” – 266 days without a single sunspot, exceeding 1954’s 241 spotless days.  However, solar minima in the late 19th-early 20th centuries often had 200-300 spotless days per year.  Farther back, during the ‘Maunder Minimum’ (cause of Europe’s ‘Little Ice Age”of 1645-1715), only 30 sunspots appeared during one 30-year period.  Sunspot maximums occur roughly midway between minimums.  Current Cycle 24, expected to end in 2019, experienced a ‘double peak’ of spot maximum – 67 sunspots in Sep. 2012, then dropping, only to again peak at 82 spots in Apr. 2014.

For comparison, the earth’s magnetic field flips – not just slide around, but flips north to south – over a wildly varying cycle ranging from 10,000 to 25 million years according to current knowledge. It takes an estimated 5000 years for the magnetic field to wane, flip, and wax, and – we are told – we may be in such a period right now. So keep an eye on your compass – if the needle point suddenly shifts to ‘south,’ or if your car’s GPS system suddenly becomes unreliable, well…don’t say you weren’t warned. And stay out of that ensuing influx of cosmic rays.

Just in case you thought you might escape this without seeing a chart, here’s your chart.

Sunspots – Last 10 cycles
Solar Start at Spots at Years of Date of Spots at
Cycle No. Minimum Minimum Cycle Maximum Maximum
15 Dec 1913 5.6 10.0 Aug 1917 105.4
16 May 1923 3.5 10.1 Apr 1928 78.1
17 Sep 1933 7.7 10.4 Apr 1937 119.2
18 Jan 1944 3.4 10.2 May 1947 151.8
19 Feb 1954 9.6 10.5 Mar 1958 201.3
20 Oct 1964 12.2 11.7 Nov 1968 110.6
21 May 1976 12.3 10.3 Dec 1979 164.5
22 Mar 1986 8.0 9.7 Jul 1989 158.5
23 Jun 1996 1.7 11.7 Mar 2000 120.8
24 Jan 2008 Apr 2014 81.9
All 24 Cycles
1755-2014 Mean 5.8 11.1   114.1


A total eclipse of the sun,
visible over all of North America, occurs August 21, 2017. Partial eclipse on the center line begins on the mainland in Oregon at 16:04 universal time (UT) (9:04 AM PDT) and begins on the South Carolina coast at 17:17 UT (1:17 PM EDT). It takes about 2 hours, 50 minutes from beginning to end, with a maximum of 2 minutes, 40.2 seconds of total eclipse in the middle of two periods of partial eclipse. Length of totality at the Oregon coast is short at 1:58, longest at Carbondale, Ill at 2:40, and is 2:33 when it leaves the South Carolina coast.

Eclipse Links:
NASA
Eclipse2017.org
Astronomy.com – 25 Facts you should know
Earth & Sky – Solar Eclipse Path
Space.com – Where, when & how to see the eclipse

A total solar eclipse is something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. It’s not often that you can see the Moon Dragon swallow and disgorge the Sun God. I’ve seen it four times. In my book, a partial eclipse is barely worth the effort of getting out of bed. Go for the centerline of shadow, where totality is maximized, or forget it. If you miss this one, another will be along on April 8, 2024, ranging from 3:22 on the east coast of Maine to 4:27 in southwestern Texas. The next one after that eclipse is on August 23, 2044. [Chuck Almdale]

Total Solar Eclipse in Antarctica (Fred Bruenjes 11/23/03)

Total Solar Eclipse in Antarctica (Fred Bruenjes 11/23/03)

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