Those sky watchers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute are preparing for the winter solstice. Astronomers there say that the sun will be at its most southern point in the sky this year at 12:11 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 21, marking the first moment of winter and the shortest day of the year. Why is this significant? At this moment the sun in its apparent path around the sky will stand directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For an observer at that latitude, the sun will appear directly overhead at noon. However, from Western North Carolina, the noontime sun will appear only about 31½ degrees above the southern horizon, its lowest point of the year.
What’s more, the sun rises at its most southern point along the southeastern horizon and sets at its most southern point on the southwestern horizon. Around this date the days are the shortest of the year and the length of the night the longest. For example, in Brevard sunrise occurs at 7:36 a.m. EST and sunset at 5:23 p.m. Thus, it is above the horizon only 9 hours 47 minutes. And viewers in Asheville, which is slightly north of Brevard, will see the sun for two minutes less that day. PARI is a public not-for-profit public foundation established in 1998 and located in the Pisgah Forest southwest of Asheville. It offers educational programs at all levels, from K-12 through post-graduate research.