Monday, December 21, 2009

Sun's trajectory will not vary for a while

Today, December 21, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It's called the Winter Solstice (where solstice means "standing still") because the trajectory of the Sun, low in the south-eastern sky, remains fixed—as it were—for several days. For me, alas, it's not easy to witness this standing-still phenomenon, because the sun rises behind one mountain, and sets behind another. At around 9.45 in the morning, the Sun makes its appearance from behind the cliff on the right-hand side of the Cournouze.

Then it spends the day moving towards Pont-en-Royans (as it were, to the right of the photo), and finally disappears below the crest of the Baret (seen, in the following photo, from my bedroom window).

Soon, the Sun will be appearing, not to the right of the Cournouze, but further to the left, above the mountain. And, since it needs extra time to "climb" to the top of the mountain, this means that, for me, the Sun will in fact appear in the sky of Châtelus later than at present. But, as of today, the days will, of course, be growing longer. As you can see, understanding what's happening in the heavens is complicated when you live in a place such as Gamone, surrounded by mountains. But I've grown accustomed to this environment, and I would surely be unhappy if I had to wake up every morning in the middle of a plain.

The Cournouze and the Baret are located a mere kilometer from each other. The saddle-shaped neck of land between them is called the Col de Mézelier, and this was the mountain pass used by the Chartreux monks on the 15-kilometer journey (no doubt astride donkeys) between their monastery of Val du Sainte-Marie down in Bouvantes and their vineyards in Choranche.

POST SCRIPTUM: I've often discovered with dismay that it's not easy to behave as an efficient amateur astronomer at Gamone, since the sky's covered inevitably in an opaque veil of clouds. If Galileo had been a Gamonian, he wouldn't have been bothered unduly by the Inquisition.

Instead of going down in History because of his "Eppur si muove", he would be remembered through a prosaic mea culpa: "My thinking was screwed up by the haze above the Cournouze."

This morning (22 December 2009), I waited vainly to see the point at which the Sun would appear in the sky above Châtelus. Let's simply say, in non-astronomical terms, that it didn't...

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