The Autumn Equinox

It was on a campsite in central Norway in the July of 2015 when I first learnt to appreciate astrophysics. Having arrived at the campsite late in the day with a tent that had been packed away wet that morning, I was keen to get the thing erected and dried. Modern tents do dry extremely quickly, even when not in direct sunlight, but a bit of sun doesn’t go amiss. The campsite in Norway was in the bottom of a valley and when I arrived, the sun was fast approaching the hill to the north west. I naturally assumed that before long the sun would disappear behind the hill and my tent would take longer to dry. But it didn’t…

As I watched, the sun rolled down the gently sloping ridge of the hill heading north until it reached the horizon at which point, later that evening, it continued its journey out of view. This being only a month or so after the summer solstice, it only disappeared for a few hours before emerging again to the north east. My rash, unthinking assumption that the sun would fall vertically like a stone behind the hill, almost as if it were under the force of a celestial gravity, was of course completely wrong. I knew this anyway – the sun rarely moves straight up and then straight down (you’d have to be living at the equator for that to happen) – but it was the extent to which the movement was so much more – much much more – to the north than towards the horizon (which could only be described as a slow trudge) that astonished me. It was my first lesson in astrophysics and I think about it regularly when I glance to the sky and ponder the movement of the sun, especially on a day such as today when the autumn equinox approaches and, for the first time since March, the number of hours of darkness each day begins to outnumber the number of hours of sunlight. (The moon, incidentally, I have yet to fathom…)

The campsite in Ringbu, central Norway, 2015

Today is the 21st September, the final day of the summer; the equinox (according to the Internet) is actually tomorrow at around 8.20pm. (And, here in Yorkshire, we have to wait until the 25th before the number of hours of sunlight actually equals the number of hours of darkness.) Aside from the astrophysical side of things, the equinox is a good time to reflect on what the summer brought, what the winter might contain and look forward to the return of the sun the following year. This is at severe risk of beginning to sound like a church sermon but bear with me…

A few days ago I posted the following message on Twitter:

If you have the time, it’s interesting scrolling through the responses. I’m clearly not the only one who, come the fag end of the summer, already has the next summer on his mind. Personally, I’ve all but discounted going to Japan in 2022. I originally planned a trip for 2020, then had hopes for 2021. Just as an opened bottle of Champagne loses its fizz, so, it seems, do unrealised travel plans. Perhaps I’ll get there one day – my experiences of travelling outside of Europe remain woefully minimal and I am eager to see more of the world – but having waited for several years to do something that I couldn’t eventually execute – cycle the length of Japan – it is perhaps time to focus my attentions elsewhere and foster an enthusiasm of two-wheeled travel in another destination. Hence the tweet. Back to Europe?

It has begun to concern me that I am losing my fluency in French. This was brought home to me a few days ago when I needed to check the French spelling of ‘bleu’. Yes, really. It shocked me. I’m a long-standing French teacher, or rather, I was. We teach the colours in the first term of Year 7. Here I was doubting if I had spelled it correctly. Perhaps a trip to France next summer might be an idea. I spent a few hours poring over online maps trying to come up with a novel route around the ‘Hexagon’ (as the French refer to their country) and eventually suggested this route on Twitter:

Not an exclusively French romp but it would result in a good amount of time in France re-learning how to spell the colours…

But then again, 2024 would be a good year to take on France. The Olympics will be in Paris in 2024 and that event would be a good focus for a long French cycle. (Visiting Japan in 2020 or 2021 was, in part, motivated by the prospect of being in Tokyo at the time of the Olympics; long-time follows of this website will remember than my original trip to southern Italy in 2010 was initially inspired by watching the cyclists at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.)

As for the 2022… I’m still left scratching my head. Thoughts, as always, welcome.

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