Considering the fairly cooler temperatures we’ve been having for the past week or so, the thought of a really cold winter arriving in the northern hemisphere is not on everyone’s mind, but we all know it’s on the horizon.
Officially, winter begins in the northern hemisphere late Saturday night, at 10:19 p.m., which is the time the sun appears to “cross” the equator marking the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere.
Readers may not realize it but there is considerable spirituality associated with the winter solstice and some people believe it is a special time for personal regeneration, renewal and self-reflection.
And, too, there are many people who believe winter occurs in southwest Iowa because Earth is further away from the sun and therefore doesn’t get the warmth. Chilly as winter may feel in our vicinity, we’re now more than three million miles closer to our fiery star than we are in the dead of summer.
Actually, distance doesn’t have anything to do with it. The tilt of our Northern Hemisphere pole is leaning most away from the sun and we are positioned in our orbit where the sun stays below the North Pole horizon.
Every year at the time of the winter solstice, the huge constellation of Orion, the Hunter, with its remarkably aligned “belt” stars, lies in the southeastern sky, soon to dominate the southern skies of southwest Iowa.
But also in the high eastern sky, you’ll find another of wintertime’s premier constellations, named Taurus, the Bull, making itself very evident in the crisp nighttime sky. The brightest star in Taurus is named Aldebaran and it can be easily located by using Orion as a guide.
As mentioned above, Orion lies in the southeastern sky and if you follow along an imaginary line through Orion’s three “belt” stars you will come to Aldebaran. When viewed through binoculars, this alpha star’s yellowish-orange color is very evident and makes a good representation of the left eye of the mythological bull in a constellation that’s over 5,000 years old.
Just to the upper right of the “eye,” see if you can locate a fairly large cluster of stars called The Hyades which mark the head of the bull.
Another star cluster and perhaps the most famous of all heavenly clusters is the Pleiades, a subject of many of my wintertime columns.
I never get tired of looking at the cluster, not only because of the rich mythological history that surround it but also because of the beauty of the stars embedded in tremendous clouds of hydrogen gas.
The most well known mythological story of how the Pleiades — the 7 daughters of the Titans Atlas and Pleione — came to be is the one, which relates how the Seven Sisters called for help from the god Zeus because Orion was pursuing them.
Zeus turned the Seven Sisters into doves and placed them in the sky in a position where Orion continues to pursue them but can never catch up with them.
I should also mention that the Pleiades are only one of few stellar formations mentioned in the Bible. In the book of Job, Chapter 38, Verse 31; “Canst, thou bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?”
The entire cluster contains more that 500 stars and lies at a distance of just over 400 light years from Earth.
To give you a little more mythological significance to Taurus, it is said that the Bull was one of Zeus’s disguises used to capture Europa and bring her across the continent that now carries her name.
To others, however, Taurus represents the golden calf formed by the “idling” followers of Moses while he was receiving the Ten Commandments.