The Autumn Light

Today a friend told me that she looked forward to mid-August because the sunlight begins to change into something more reminiscent of autumn. In Austin, this solar change can be deceiving — even distressing — as it rarely accompanies a change in atmospheric temperature.  In short, it begins to look like fall but still feels very much like summer. Growing up in Illinois, I remember autumn as intense with color and temperature change. The sun shines a deep, golden light. I always knew this as real, but never really explored why light changes with the seasons.

The Seattle Times explains it:

The position of the sun in the sky is changing. That, in turn, alters how we perceive color and light. In the height of summer, the sun is as far overhead as it gets. But the sun drops and drops after the summer solstice in June — and the change speeds up at the midpoint toward winter. Right about now.

The seasons are the result of the tilt of our planet on its axis as we orbit the sun. Picture a tennis ball on a pen, with the pen held at a 23.5-degree angle. Now rotate the ball (Earth) on the same angle, fixed around a stationary object (the sun).

The farther from the equator, the more obliquely the sun’s light strikes Earth — that’s the longer, slanted light we are bathed in now, instead of the full-on beams we bask in at high summer.

And the journey will continue in the progression toward winter, taking us into shorter days, with the sun even lower on the horizon.

But not first without this gleaming farewell, through the golden hours of this season.

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