When daylight hours dwindle, astronomer and Priest Professor of Physics Aileen O’Donoghue says there’s a bright side to be found in the dark.
“Though I love these dark, cozy, early nights, I recognize that I’m in the minority. I love seeing the stars as I drive home, looking for the new ones peeking over the eastern horizon as the season turns with every day and week. They're old friends by now and I'm excited as each one returns from its summer sojourn behind the sun.”
O’Donoghue is the author of “The Sky is Not a Ceiling,” in which she explores a greater understanding of the universe as she grapples with her own spiritual journey. She appears regularly on NCPR to help North Country listeners decipher the night sky as it changes and appreciate every transition throughout the year
The shortest day of the year takes place on the winter solstice which falls on December 21. Even though the sun has started setting incrementally later, it’s also rising later, resulting in fewer minutes of daylight in the morning. On the day of the solstice, the North Country will experience a total of eight hours and 49 minutes of light and 15 hours and 11.5 minutes of what O’Donoghue fondly refers to as “lovely, luscious dark.”
“Then the sun will start moving back to the north and ease the suffering of you who love the light,” says O’Donoghue.
By Christmas Day, the sun will set three minutes and 14 seconds later, and by New Year’s a whole 10 minutes and 42 seconds later, O’Donoghue explains.
Though she encourages others not to be afraid of the dark, she hopes that equipping her students and colleagues with knowledge of daylight changes ahead will give them the comfort and hope they need to get through—and find joy in—the colder months.
“For those who find the dark less inviting, fear not—the light will return!” she says.
When you’re craving a few more moments of light at the end of the workday, every second makes a difference. If you’re O’Donoghue, you may have to seek other ways to enjoy the cozy comfort of earlier evenings.
“By the first day of spring on the Celtic Calendar, February 2, 2023, the sun won’t set until 5:10 p.m. After that, the days will lengthen very quickly and some of us will have to flee to closets to find some dark!” she says.
Here in Canton, the latest sunrise will occur at 7:37:33 a.m. on January 2, at which point the days will grow longer on both ends—a comfort for many, though O’Donoghue urges us not to wish the shorter days away.
“Savor the dark as much as you can because, like the long bright days of summer, it is fleeting. Gaze out at the deep wilderness of the night sky and recognize the comfort of our home planet keeping us warm and fed. For me, time expands in the dark. There is more time to rest—to sip tea and gaze out from a darkened room, finding security in the familiar glittering patterns of the constellations.”