During this time of year, my thoughts turn philosophically, sentimentally deeper toward several things: family, the past, spirituality and, of course, life on other planets.
For family, this time of year means additional sentimental thoughts partly because, for the Northern hemisphere, the weather is growing colder, and the nights darker and longer, and so our hearts instinctively look to shorten the distances between loved ones to increase warmth, security, and hope.
For the past, at this time of year, with the New Year approaching, it is a time that we begin to realize that another year has gone, and we begin to look back and take stock of what has happened - sometimes with happiness, sometimes with new knowledge realized, sometimes with anger, sometimes with regret, and sometimes with sadness. If used right, it is a time of extra growth.
For spirituality, this season has strong, and many times somewhat similar, religious meanings for many of the world's theologies. This is in large part because, again for the Northern hemisphere, the Winter solstice brings not only the longest night of the year, but the knowledge that the days will now begin to lengthen again - the Sun returns, and with it renewed warmth and energy filled life. It is the promise of Spring. It is the promise of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection that we rejoice in and are thankful for. It is the promise of death conquered. And connected with looking back to the year that was, and looking close to loved ones, it is a time of year to be thankful yet again for the blessings that loved ones, that love, brings (though for those struggling with a bad year, with abandonment, it can be a very dark time of year indeed).
Of course, too often all of this is ruined by crass commercialism, by the pressures and stresses of false and shallow meanings that have been attached to the season. But that is a topic for other blogs.
For life on other planets, I wonder how they would treat a solstice on their planet? To be high level sentient does one have to be a pattern seeker, to look for the meaning and/or reasons for the patterns? If so, then such sentient beings would see the pattern of solstice and equinox as even our distant ancestors did (from even before Stonehenge) and work to apply a meaning or reason to the pattern (for to find meaning or reason is to find purpose and to be able to make predictions, and maybe even gain some control over - or at least the illusion/delusion of some control).
This, of course, depends on many factors which would affect the severity, or the placidness, of annual weather patterns. Is the planet in a very circular orbit, or a somewhat elliptical one? Is the planet close to its star, and thus with a very short year? Is the planet actually a large habitable moon circling a gas giant? Is there a virtually non-existent tilt to its axis or it is a large tilt? And what of these combined?
If, for instance, the planet is in a very circular orbit, at a close orbit (a red dwarf, for instance, would have a habitable zone much closer to it than a normal G-type star like our own Sun), and with virtually no tilt to its axis, such a planet may have very little differences between its seasons - and seasons that come and go quickly (smaller orbit means, usually, a shorter year). If a longest night is very quickly followed by a longest day (weeks later, i.e.), would there be as much imperative to celebrate the return of the sun's dominance in the sky?
For a planet-moon circling a gas giant, the sun could disappear for days at a time before returning to a "regular" schedule.
Or if the planet-moon is phase locked with its parent gas giant planet, then for the time it is behind the planet there would be, for the far side of the planet-moon there would be constant darkness until the planet-moon came out from behind the gas giant; but then the sun would rise and stay in the sky as it slowly arcs to the opposite horizon as the planet-moon orbits in front of the gas giant. On such a world, a short winter may cover the entire globe while in the shadow of the gas giant, and summer cover the entire globe while in front of the gas giant with extremely short springs and fall at the point the planet-moon is over the terminator line of the gas giant (the line where day and night on the gas giant meet, where one begins and the other ends). Maybe the world's sentient race would view their world as more of a unity than we view our own as on Earth the Northern and Southern hemispheres experience direct opposite seasons at the same time, while on this hypothetical world, both hemispheres experience the same season at the same time.
Anyway, back to the long day and long night, a primitive sentient mind may see that as a mighty heroic epic struggle between day and night. Though if a non-aggressive sentient species, say a slow moving herbivore species on a cool planet, maybe the day and night would represent a sort of "wheel of fortune" - first good luck (sun, warmth, plants taking full advantage) and then bad luck (days long darkness, worsening cold, plants folding up waiting for the sun)?
Additionally, there would be no solstice like we have - there would be no gradual shortening of the night - just one long night, and then one long day, each individual night as long as the night before, separated by an equally long day. Essentially, they would be in eternal equinox. Spring would be morning, summer would be the day, fall would be the evening, and winter would be the night - if you wanted to give them seasons. It may be more accurate to say such a world would have no real seasons at all, only the kind of "seasons" any day-night cycle would have.
If, instead, the planet-moon did have a noticeable tilt to its axis, and a non-circular orbit around its parent gas giant planet, which itself had a non-circular orbit around the central sun, or if the parent planet had a noticeable tilt to its axis with the planet-moon orbiting directly over the parent planet's equator, then the planet-moon, while still retaining non-changing lengths to its day and nights, would gain true seasons. The sun would arc over the sky differently through out the parent planet's year - while the planet-moon's year is the time it takes to orbit around the gas giant, the gas giant has its own year as it orbits its sun.
On such a world, a season would not be different parts of the planet-moon's year, but would be seen year to year. A number of years would be Spring, while another number of years would be Summer, and so forth, repeating itself. What a different kind of zodiac such a world would have! In some ways, it would be similar to a Chinese zodiac calendar (the year of the horse, the year of the dog, etc), except each zodiac would cover a span of years. Their zodiac could contain a zodiac within a zodiac within a zodiac.
Solstice on such a world may not represent so much the return of day, since it is possible that the day and nights would not change in length from year to year, but could represent the point where Winter is half over and thus the return of Spring begins. And maybe, just maybe, the celebration would be a whole year (for the planet-moon).
Of course, this is supposing that all higher level sentient beings feel, in an emotive sense, for in some ways spirituality, and especially sentimentality, depends upon emotion more (at least at times) than reason. Is emotion necessary to higher level of sentience? It seems on Earth, at least, the higher the level of sentience, the more emotion the creature seems to have.
But this is a topic for a future blog.
Comments? Feel free to comment on any post in this blog. Please feel free to disagree with me (just do so respectfully please - even if you think I sin in any or all of my opinions, please recall, if you are Christian, Jesus' attitude toward the adulteress: while he was against what she did, he did not condemn her, and turned away those who would stone her).
Happy Holidays to you and yours (and even to Lrrr, Ruler of Omicron Persei 8, and his wife Nd-Nd. And what the heck, to Robot Santa too!*).
* If Lrrr, Nd-Nd, and Robot Santa mean nothing to you, you need to run, not walk, to the TV and catch an episode of Futurama.