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23.5 degrees: Where is the Light?

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In July, a friend asked me where the best place was for a sunrise swim. Without hesitation, I said, “Gyllynvase or Swanpool beach, the sun rises through the water on the horizon and it’s simply magical”.

A few days later I took myself down to enjoy this very same image and, to my shock, the sun didn’t show up. What? Had I just given out false information?! How did I get that so wrong? I’ve even got timelapse footage of the sun rising there when I went for a dip in December.

Wait, does the sunrise move? If so, where, how far and why?

I almost ran home from genuine excitement to dive into the answers – to discover such a fundamental question and reason for feeling so duped.

The Tilt

You see, the earth has a slight axial tilt. A small 23.5 degree angle off centre. This itself is common knowledge but that tiny angle affects the distribution of light from the sun’s rays as we spin. It’s the reason we have seasons and why nature in the northern hemisphere can be so diverse in its life cycles.

I mean, I knew this to be true, but seeing it unfold in action and paying attention to what it means has opened my eyes.

Sunrises, and sunsets for that matter, will appear to travel north or south across the horizon between the summer and winter solstices. This is why, in Falmouth, Cornwall, my winter sunrises are over the sea and my summer sunrises are over the land. There are so many other interesting facts but I will stop there before they take over this article.

I know I am not here to give you an astronomy lesson. I just wanted to share what was a powerful moment of ‘nature connectedness’ for me.

Nature Connectedness

A concept named and advocated by Professor Miles Richardson and the researchers at University of Derby. They point out that even though humans are part of nature, there is clearly a disconnect with the natural world in our modern society. It’s as if our innate connection with nature is broken. We can, however, mend this break. By paying close attention to how nature can make us feel, we can nurture and develop a connection with nature like we once did.

I’ve always considered myself pretty ‘connected’ with my sea swimming, explorative nature hikes and general love for the outdoors. However, when that sun didn’t rise where I thought it would, I felt that disconnect, like a big hole.

Without realising it, this new understanding about where the sun will rise and fall, and the small 23.5 angle, has strengthened my connection to nature. Just noticing it has given me inspiration and also an opportunity to upgrade my adventure planning. You want a sunset picnic on your favourite beach in North Cornwall where the light falls behind a certain cliff? Hold my beer. It’s like a superpower, knowing where the rays will be at what time of the year – it gives ‘chasing the light’ a whole new meaning for me as we head into Autumn.

The season where the light dwindles and (as I now know) when the sunrise will slowly but surely travel south. Autumn is when I will be able to witness those magical morning swims once again as the sun emerges from the ocean’s horizon. Isn’t that something to be excited for?

The Lesson of Light

We are often anxious to part with long summer nights and resist syncing up with a new seasonal rhythm. However, as the wind gently builds its strength to help the tree’s drop their leaves, I feel comfort amongst the emerging deep reds and oranges on Cornwall’s skyline.

As another season rolls around, it reminds us that as long and still as those summer nights feel, the natural world changes with each axial spin. The gradual shift of light is one to take notice of and perhaps by paying close attention, we need not fear those darker days, because now you know exactly where the light will shine.

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