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The Good News About These Short Days


Now some good news brought to you by astrophysicist Adam Frank. He wants us to stop cursing the darkness of this time of year and enjoy its place in our cosmic concert.

ADAM FRANK: I get it. The days are so short now. And with all that darkness, I understand why people curse the winter and look back with longing to the summer and its long, lazy days of heat and sunshine. But I'm here to tell you that right there, right there in that very urge to curse the winter is some very, very good news. See, the sky itself is made of music. And these days we're in now? They hit all the important quiet notes.

Sometime around noon tomorrow, I want you to go outside. And I want you to go find the sun. Because it's winter, that midday sun you're looking for will be hanging relatively low in the sky. That means you're going to have to look generally southward to find it. Now, take a moment and remember one of those summer days you've been romanticizing.


FRANK: In summer, the noontime sun rides much higher in the sky. It's closer to being directly overhead.


FRANK: And rather than the gentle warmth you're feeling from the low winter sun now, in the summer, the sun overhead can feel like it's really pounding down on you. That regular rhythm, alternating from summer to winter and back again, it's a beat built from an entire planet swinging through space and guided by rules of sublime celestial order. As you know, the Earth spins on its axis once a day, but that axis - it's tilted.

And for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, the tilt means in the summer, we're tipped towards the sun, which is why the big yellow ball seems more like it's overhead, and its rays seem like they can be turned up to 11. But six months later, in winter, we're tipped away from the sun. That's why you have to look south to find it and why its glancing rays don't carry much oomph.

So this combination of rhythms - the tilted spin of the day and the orbital swing of the year - that gives us the seasons. And like all great musicians, the universe gives us tension and repose in its compositions. Inscribed on the path of the sun through the sky we can see for ourselves that summer and winter are counterpoints in music, built from plants and their motions. It is ancient and powerful. And yet, it's present for us right now.

So the good news? Enjoy this quiet time. Enjoy this dusky light. They are both essential parts of the music of the spheres. It's a grand cosmic concert, and you have a front row seat.


SHAPIRO: That's astrophysicist Adam Frank. He's a professor at the University of Rochester and author of "Light Of The Stars: Alien Worlds And The Fate Of The Earth." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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