Long Days, Vanishing Sun

June 22: Among other things, it’s the anniversary of the Germans’ invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and the birthdays of a couple good friends, Dan and George, whom I haven’t seen in a long time. I always think of those three things on this date.

It’s also the date that, up here in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight starts bleeding away after the summer solstice. At my latitude (a bit below the 38th Parallel), one rather complete reference, timeanddate.com, reports that we’ll have about two seconds less daylight today than yesterday (the daily shrinkage is greater the farther north you go). Tomorrow, six seconds less; a week from tomorrow, 29 seconds less, a week after than, 50 seconds less. Here, the sun will set after 8 p.m. until mid-August. It’s about then, when the daylight is shrinking by two minutes a day, that I always feel that I start to notice it.  

Some of the math that goes into determining the length of daylight is here, a 1998 post at the Ask Dr. Math forum. And a very cool-looking Java applet that spits out daylight data for any point on the Earth’s surface is here: Daylight Applet (it takes a while to calculate your data; there’s also a paid, dowloadable version that gives you a lot more numbers and tables).

Solstice Notebook

In six minutes — no, five! four! — something will click into place somewhere out there in the big celestial machine and we in the Northern Hemisphere will be at summer solstice. Get out and enjoy that daylight, everyone. …

(Official solstice time: 11:06 a.m. PDT.)

And then later: The space station and space shuttle went overheard at quarter to 10 tonight, with the solstice twilight still bright. This (below) is the shuttle, which trailed the space station by about a minute (at least 300 miles, I figure). Both flew right through the Big Dipper. Great Bear Transit.


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Solstice Ride

The summer solstice occurred at 11:46 p.m. last night, the 20th. I didn’t go out and fire off my handgun, because I forgot to buy one and I don’t have any ammo.

So today: The first full day of summer. The days are just about as long as they’re going to get. I spent the day in my office at the law school, and didn’t think much about the season. But when I got home, I decided to try to fight past my usual evening inertia and go out for a ride.

I didn’t get started till nearly 8 (7:54, actually), but figured I had enough time to make it to the highest point of Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley Hills to see the sun go down (according to the online and newspaper almanacs I’ve found, sunset was at 8:35 p.m.).

I made it up to the little pullout where people go to look down on the city and watch the evening come on when the weather’s clear (there are plenty of evenings when the fog cuts visibility to 100 feet or less up in the hills, and I’ve been riding up there then, too). I made it without about three minutes to spare and watched the sun disappear behind a mountain peak somewhere in northwestern Marin County. Then I got on my bike and started to ride away when someone said, “Dan!”

It was my neighbor Piero, with his son Niko. We’d been standing about 10 yards apart, I’d guess. But all of us were so focused on watching this first day of summer close that we never saw each other. They drove back down, and I finished my ride.