Fast | Slow
The New Moon initiating Brown Lunation 1223 occurs on November 4th at 14:31 Pacific Time. Ecliptic latitude is not quite right for a solar eclipse this month, but will be next. In just a fortnight, however, at the Full Moon, a partial lunar eclipse occurs, opening another eclipse season which closes with the December 4th event. What might be more immediately compelling, though, is the Equation of Time, or why the Sun is “fast” by some 16 minutes and 29 seconds on November 3rd/4th.
A friend of mine, Satheesh, who’s from India, enjoys engaging me in conversation with regard to yoga, meditation, and such. In his experience of the West, perhaps I’m an anomaly. He offers his cultural and philosophical insights, which are difficult to find elsewhere, and I offer mine. We are neither the other’s teacher, so our exchanges are relaxed and easy.
One day, he and I are discussing the challenges of time zones, clock time, with regard to actual time. He laments the difficulty of determining correct time here in the USA. I say while there may be countries that are more attuned to esoteric temporal calculations, if you’re writing code, and programming Apps, then you’re watching the same clock as the rest of us. You know what time it is. He agrees, but implores that I pay attention to actual time with regard to meditation. I say my meditation time is consistent: within minutes of midnight. (He doesn’t like that I mediate then — occult forces, and all — but does like that I have a particular timeframe that I use consciously.) So, I ask, “What should I do, and why?”
He says, “Well, aside from more money, power, and carnal conquest, why does anyone meditate?” I didn’t have to think too long. “Oh, yeah … to extend awareness … commune with the infinite … meld with the ultimate!”
More or less satisfied, my friend then describes a specific time frame around sunrise, sunset, midnight, and noon that best suits meditation. It’s the twenty minutes on either side of each celestial moment that’s critical. You can expand your practice. Satheesh said to sit in meditation within these forty-minutes and immediately gain greater access to the universal consciousness. It’s a window of opportunity. A sublime potentiate. Sandhya!
I can do that! What’s not so easy, though, is the starting point. And, we’ve come full circle. So, let’s sort this out, now. Once and for all.
Of course, sunrise and sunset are givens, but not noon. And by looking at noon — because you can look at noon during the daytime — midnight is known. It’s exactly 12 hours later. So why isn’t noon a given, too? After all, it’s just 12:00 PM. Twelve-hundred hours. Twelve O’clock High! The better question is, “Why isn’t noon, noon?” Well, when relying on simple observation the timing is easy. The Sun, due South (in the Northern Hemisphere) is 12 O’clock Noon. A stick in the ground and a clear day can tell you this. That is actual solar time. Apparent time. The true Sun. But add mean clock time, daylight savings time, and time zones, and things go awry.
Daylight savings time, absurd in the first place, is easy enough to navigate. One O’clock daylight time is really 12 O’clock standard time. Simply subtract an hour, and Bob’s your Uncle. But both daylight time and standard time are based on mean time. And it’s mean time that throws us for a loop the loop. That is, on certain days, when the clock strikes 12, solar time can be about 15 minutes ahead of or behind!
Solar noon, by the way, is when the Sun crosses the local meridian. The local meridian is based on where the observer is standing. It’s a specific, unique geographic position. It’s wherever you are. And, this brings us to times zones, which span some 15° of longitude, or an hour of time. The beginning of the time zone, geographically, is an hour ahead of the end of that same time zone. Noon is not noon everywhere in the same time zone. Nowhere is this more ridiculously demonstrated than in China. Their single time zone — Beijing time — spans some 2000 miles, and 5 time zones. Imagine … using Beijing time … as three people … sit down to meditate … at 12 O’clock noon: The one in Harbin would likely find himself within the aforementioned window of opportunity. The woman in Beijing would be an hour early. Her window has yet to open. And, the poor sap out in Kashi, well, he’s closer to the sunrise window than he is to the one at solar noon. That’s an extreme example, but it holds even in more judiciously derived time divisions, and makes a difference in context of Sandhya.
For example, the distance of 304 miles between Havasu Lake, CA and Santa Barbara, CA spans nearly half of the Pacific Time Zone, as such, solar noon for those partying on the lake occurs 21 minutes before it does for those basking in the coastal beach sunshine. (304 miles / 57.41 miles per degree at 34° N x 4 minutes per degree = 21 minutes.) Yet, clock time reads 12:00:00 at both locations.
For those in Santa Barbara, while clock-time indicates noon, the actual Sun is at 11:39:00. Again, this is simply a geographic reality of time zones. Actual solar noon in Santa Barbara is therefore 12:21:00. Couple that with the wide Equation of Time differences of November and February, and the window opening around solar noon stands a good chance of being closed for you. In this example, in Santa Barbara, the Sun is geographically slow by 21 minutes, and on November 4th, per the Equation of Time, the Sun is fast by 16 minutes, 29 seconds. The difference leaves the Sun slow by only 4 minutes, 31 seconds on this date, but still slow. Transit is 12:04:31. Sandhya is 11:44:31 to 12:24:31. As well, on February 11th, the Sun is slow by 14 minutes, 14 seconds, as per Equation of Time. This, and the 21 minute geographic discrepancy, leave the Sun behind by 35 minutes, 14 seconds as the clock strikes twelve. This changes the window quite a bit. Transit is 12:35:14, local time. Sandhya is 12:15:14 to 12:55:14. Obviously, in Havasu Lake, the variable is only the Equation of Time, but that’s significant enough.
The differences in solar time and mean time known as the Equation of Time represent the variation between the two based on Earth’s axial tilt, and its slightly elliptical orbit about the Sun. The loop the loop reference above describes the analemma, and the analemma literally describes these motions, and their relationship to mean time. Online, you can find striking multi-exposure photographs spanning a full year showing the infinity sign of the analemma stretching across the sky. Some people plot and publish the individual points on graphs depicting both curves, that when combined, reveal a lopsided figure-8, its important points, and all those in-between. As well, the same form is drawn onto globes over the South Pacific (usually inverted, as though being viewed from below) because it’s a useful navigational tool for sailors — it lets them know where they are, and when they are there. But it depends on mean time.
Equation of Time
The Earth speeds up and slows down in its orbit about the Sun because of greater or lesser gravitational attraction near perihelion, and aphelion. Our clocks keep ticking away, quite accurately, day after day. There are 24 hours in each of our days, and our time-pieces divide each day into 86,400 seconds. The Earth and Sun don’t care, so some days are longer and some shorter. This, of course, brings us to a sidereal day, which is measured by a complete, 360° rotation of the Earth on its axis. It is only 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds long, and some 3 minutes, 56 seconds shorter than a solar day. A sidereal day is one rotation in relation to the fixed stars. A solar day is the time it takes the Earth to return to its same orientation with the Sun — solar noon to solar noon. The difference has to do with proximity and parallax, but for now, just know that the Earth has to rotate a little farther — about 3 minutes, and 56 seconds farther, to complete a solar day. So, in a nutshell, when near perihelion the Earth is moving faster in its orbit, and therefore must rotate a bit farther to get back to its alignment with the Sun at noon to complete a day. When farther away, near aphelion, it is moving more slowly in its orbit, so it will return to its alignment with less rotation. Obviously, some days are longer, some are shorter relative to the consistent 86,400 seconds of clock time. And, each year, only 4 days are dead-on — where clock time agrees with solar noon.
While the differences in orbital speed account for the analemma’s widths, the Earth’s axial tilt is revealed by its height. Earth’s seasons are determined by this axial tilt, which produces a range of greatest insolation throughout the year. Greatest insulation occurs when the sun is directly overhead. On or about March 21st and September 22nd the Sun is directly above the equator, 0° latitude. These are the equinoxes. Because the Earth’s axial tilt is 23.4°, and remains stationary relative to its orbital plane, in subsequent months the Sun appears to moves north or south, some 23.4°, shining its rays perpendicularly onto the planet’s surface. Therefore, as the Earth revolves about the Sun the latitudinal position of the Sun changes. The latitudinal variation of greatest insolation sweeps north/south some 47° over the course of each year, solstice to solstice, and back. This variation defines the upper and lower limits of the tropics, Cancer in the north, Capricorn in the south. Temperate zones reside beyond these solar turning points, and the arctic circles beyond at 66.5° to 90°. So, during Northern Hemisphere winter, the Earth is tilting away from the Sun, and the Sun shines lower on the Northern horizon. By the same token, during the Northern Hemisphere summer, the Earth tilts toward the Sun, which puts it higher in the sky. Again, these are the upper and lower excursions of the analemma, which is showing the upper and lower excursions of the tropics. These upper / lower limits correspond closely with perihelion and aphelion, the combination bearing significantly on Earth’s climate.
You can use the analemma to determine exactly when is solar noon, relative to clock time. You can determine geographically where your local meridian is relative to your time zone, and then when is solar noon relative to clock time. You can install a sundial in your backyard, and consult as desired. Or, you can drop $25,000 to $250,000 on a wrist watch — er, pardon me, a … complication — that incorporates the Equation of Time into its movement. (See paragraph 4, point 1 of meditation foci.) In any event, now you really know what time it is.
Kinda makes the climb toward enlightenment seem a bit easier, doesn’t it? Come find out by joining a streaming Yin yoga class when the time is right, now!