When the sun stood still

The plane through the centre of the earth and the sun is called the ‘ecliptic‘ and it describes the apparent path of the sun around the earth. And the plane through the centre of the earth – on the earth’s equator – is called the ‘celestial equator‘. There is an angle between these two planes of 23.4o and this angle is known as the ‘obliquity of the ecliptic‘.

It is the obliquity of the ecliptic which gives rise to our seasons, because as the earth moves around the sun a point on the surface will be closer to the sun in summer and further away in winter. The mid winter and mid summer solstices are the midpoints of those two seasons and at the  midsummer solstice the perceived height of the sun in the sky is at its maximum ‘declination‘ – the angle between the ecliptic and the orbital plane. So whereas the solstices occur when the angle is at its maximum  23.4o, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes occur when the angle between the two planes is at its minimum, i.e. 0o, or when the celestial equator intersects with the ecliptic.

The summer solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere on June 21st and on this years solstice I found myself walking in the countryside late into the evening. It was a proper midusmmer day; sunny, warm and sultry, and the fields were full of wild flowers.

Field poppy – papaver rhoeas -my all time favourite wild flower. There’s nothing quite so spectacular as a field full of red poppies!

The field poppy is also known as the ‘Flanders poppy’ from the battle fields of WW1 – which seems wholely appropriate as I’m writing this on Remembrance Sunday. I find it difficult to photograph poppies and get the colours just right, but I really like these flowers against the green background. They were snapped in the field below, which was a riot of floral colour throughout the summer:

Looking along the drainage ditch which divides two arable fields

The old oak tree in this picture was home to a barn owl nest this year and I spent several evenings sitting in the undergrowth watching the toing and froing of the adults bringing prey to the nest. I didn’t get to see the fledglings but I’m hoping they were successful and return next year. And it was along this stretch of ditch where I photographed the yellowhammer, linnet and whitethroat I posted recently.

Not quite sunset, but the colours were breathtaking

And of course at that time of year, late in the day when the sun is getting low in the sky, the skyscapes can be magnificent .

Another flower which was sprouting in the hedgerows was woody nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, which is closely related to deadly nightshade, and the potato which is rather less toxic than it’s relatives – unless the potatos are green when they contain the same toxin. So don’t eat the green ones (or nightshade berries)!

Woody nightshade flowers with a dog rose in the background

Toward the end of my stroll it was getting darker and in the midst of a line of imposing horse chestnut trees is this dead one silhouetted against the crepuscular blueness of the western sky after sunset.

On another dead tree stump adjacent to this one was a kestrel eating its prey and it let me stand close by and watch it for several minutes which was remarkable in itself, but to give you an idea of how close I was I could actually hear it tearing the flesh off the bone! He must have been very hungry.

The moon emerging from behind a horse chestnut tree

And right at the end of the walk it was night time proper, and on midsummers day this year there was also a full moon.

The word ‘solstice‘ is derived from the Latin for ‘the sun stands still’ because the sun has stopped rising in the sky and begins it’s journey back across the ecliptic to bring summer to the southern hemisphere, leaving winter for us in the north. But I wasn’t thinking about that as I soaked up the summer warmth on midsummers day.

17 responses to “When the sun stood still

  1. Very nice, Finn…I especially enjoyed the “not quite sunset” and moon images…very well done. 🙂

  2. Beautiful photos, Finn. I love the red poppy — we don’t have a wild version of that gorgeous flower, but I’ve seen photos of them in an expansive landscape (Belgium, I believe) which is quite dramatic. The winter solstice is almost upon us, and the arc of the sun is so low here that it barely lights the backyard these days. Ah, winter…

  3. This is a very timely post for me as I was just thinking about the seasons and trying to remember what I knew about the sun’s movement round the Earth. Thank you for explaining it all so nicely. I love all your photographs, those poppies are wonderfully vibrant and the moon shot is spectacular, but I think the second photo is my favourite because it conjures up such atmosphere. I can almost smell the summer air, and the sight of all that luxuriant growth does my heart good. Lovely hares in your Flickr photos, too.

    • Hello Lorna, I’m pleased you like that picture because I think it conveys the feel of that spot on a summer evening.

      The astronomy stuff is fascinating, I often venture out at night time with the dog and gaze at the heavens, I once spent a whole walk working out in my head how far beta centauri is from the earth in miles! Suffice to say it was a very, very big number 🙂

  4. Lovely lovely post Finn – loved the flowers and the sunset, the birds, the trees and the moon – wonderful pics – an English summer night is so special…

    • Hello Valerie, I couldn’t agree more, and this was one of the best. It was quiet and sultry, the air was alive with the buzz of insects and the fields were ablaze with all the colours of the flowers. I think this must be one of the only posts I’ve done with no pictures of creatures, but I thought the evening deserved a whole post of it’s own!

  5. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    I think poppies are hard to photograph too. Like all bright flowers with flat colour and no tonal change, one has to photograph it in the right light – usually early or late in the day so the shadows fall from each petal.

    Love the image of the drainage ditch. Very effective. It’s not easy to photograph something like this and you’ve done it really well. I’m a great admirer of photographers who can make the ‘ordinary’ look appealing and interesting.

    • Thanks Vicki, you’re absolutely right about poppies needing just the right light. And I think the right background helps too, the shade of green in the field behind these flowers made all the difference.

  6. It will soon be midsummer here (although end of spring is still on the cards 😉 ). I loved this post. I loved how it shared your world and the light, the moon, the sun, the sky IS in your neck of the woods. The sky hurts your eyes here thanks to the hole in the ozone layer that is well and truly centred directly over Tasmania. Our birds are all crazy and in full nest mode and our days are a maniacal dance against time in order to get our veggie gardens planted out and in a vain effort to stop the advancing weed (zombie) hoardes from taking us over. One day I am going to have to just give in and change the name of this place to “Forget-me-not” farm. My Great Uncle Oscar died in Gallipoli when he was 18. I won’t forget and I won’t let my kids forget. None of us SHOULD forget because that senseless loss of life didn’t stop WW2. There are other ways, we just need to push past the warmongers (those that would promote war because of their personal investment portfolio’s and vested interests in the mechanations of war and oil) and learn to shake hands. The world is a MUCH smaller place now. You can’t hide atrocities like you once could and the eyes of the world are watching. Lovely post Finn. I love those poppies 🙂

    • Hello Fran, I didn’t realise the ozone hole is still such a big deal down in Tassie. I knew it was still there but I thoiught it was shrinking back. Does that mean there are more eye problems down there?

      I think it’s really good that you guys still have ANZAC day and we have our Remembrance Day, despite having ancestors who fought in WW1 (on both sides!) and in WW2 I’m not aware of any deaths in our family but I think it’s imperative we all make the effort to remember. And that’s another reason why poppy fields have their own unique beauty!

      BTW I think ‘Forget-Me-Not Farm’ would be a wonderful name – especially after what you said about your Great Uncle Oscar.

      • We had people fighting on both sides as well. With a maiden name like “Stahl” (German for “steel”) it was somewhat inevitable. In one of the battles in WW2, a ship containing one English relative sunk a U-boat containing a German relative. In war all gloves are off and no-one wins. THAT is what we are supposed to be remembering when we have our 5 minutes of silence. Not so much the loss, but the fact that it was completely senseless and that no-one really “wins” aside from the warmongers. Lets just hope that our children’s children get it.

      • That’s an astonishing piece of family history, how did you manage to tie up the RN ship with the U-boat? I hope our childrens children get it… if environmental catastrophe doesn’t get us all first.

      • My father researched “the family”. We are from German decent and so he was interested as half of the family stayed in Germany, some went to the US and some came out to Australia. We are the Australian chapter 😉

      • Hats off to your Dad for piecing it all together. It must have been a sad moment when he discovered that family members were shooting at each other. Fortunately that didn’t happen in my family, my English grandad was in the trenches on the Western Front and my Danish great grandfather was coerced into the German army but fought in the Balkans before he deserted and escaped into unoccupied Denmark. War’s shit isn’t it – pitching family against family!

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