Drawing Out

The nights are officially drawing out — we are rattling lungs-first into the long mosquito summer, people of the northern hemisphere!

Here in Bournemouth, the earliest sunset of the year passed last Sunday, at 16.02. We are already five days into the race for rebirth.

But, David, I hear you roar — what about the winter solstice, isn’t that supposed to be the shortest day in the northern hemisphere on account of the tilt of the earth on its axis?

Keep your macs zipped — it very much still is. In Bournemouth, we’ll scrape a mere 7 hours 57 minutes and 32 seconds out of next Tuesday, a full 54 seconds less in the barrel of time than today. That’s enough time to boil an egg. (And get food poisoning. five minutes, people, five minutes.)

So why, for the love of daylight, do I insist that the nights are drawing out?

Ah. Because, my dear friends, a day is not the twenty-four hours our capitalist calendars would like us to imagine. Twenty-four hours is but an average. (And not a particularly accurate average either, hence leap years.)

An average?

Yeah, I know. It’s like learning that you don’t get paid £13 for every hour you work, but rather on a pay schedule designed by Byzantine Emperor Justinian ‘the slit-nosed’:

Okay, so when you clock in, you’re on about £10 per hour, but that quickly drops to nothing until the caffeine from your first three mugs of tea have kicked in. By lunchtime, however, you’re cock of the roost at £16 per hour, before getting whacked by the dreaded afternoon slump.

I don’t know what’s in your 3pm choccy-biccy, but it’s probably against some sort of substance misuse company policy because, come Happy Hour down the Dog & Duck, your wage is topping £30 per hour.

Unlikely as it seems, this rollercoaster of a wage structure averages out to about £13 per hour and, frankly, HR works off that figure because, by this point, they need a lie down.

Anyway. That’s what days are like.

Actual solar time compared to mean solar time (i.e. 24 hours)

Solar days are measured as the time between the solar noon of one day and the solar noon of the next.

Because of the elliptical shape of the earth, these solar noons are pretty much never exactly twenty-four hours apart. In fact, the precise ‘time’ of solar noons fluctuates throughout the year. Right now, solar noon in Bournemouth is 11.56 — and every day it’s getting later.

That explains why, even though the amount of daylight in a day is still going down, the exact time of sunset is already drifting out, following the later solar noon.

For the first time this winter, the minutes and seconds being shaved off our daylight hours are not being taken from earlier sunsets, but only from later sunrises.

In fact, dawn lags more than two weeks behind: the latest sunrise of winter doesn’t roll around until New Year’s Eve. It’s almost as if the sun wants us to stay under the covers a little longer.

So celebrate our later sunsets, celebrate (on Tuesday) the returning of our star from the Tropic of Capricorn, and ignore the astronomers who say that winter is yet to begin…