Recent hot days of December have made Miamians moan, groan, and long for a big blast of Arctic air so they can don the moth-balled sweaters and coats hidden deep in their closets. Warm-weather lovers are crying wool! So it seems impossible to fathom that winter officially arrives Friday, December 21 -- at 2:21 p.m. to be exact. If you'd only look up sometimes, you would know.
The Southern Cross Astronomical Society makes a habit of looking up -- often. Founded in 1922, the organization counts itself as one of the Western Hemisphere's oldest amateur astronomical societies. Every Saturday night its members stare at the stars at Bill Sadowski Park. On Sundays they gather at Metrozoo for a solar viewing. And on special celestial occasions, they travel from the bright lights of the big city to very dark places, all the better to spy meteors, nebulae, and star clusters with the naked eye.
This Friday the SCAS will decamp to the unlit environs of the Everglades and set up its high-powered telescopes for the public's viewing pleasure. Short sleeves notwithstanding, it's their annual Winter Solstice Star Party, and through the lens you should be able to behold wondrous winter constellations, pretty planets, and the first quarter moon. It's the longest night of the year (and it just may feel that way if you don't pack the bug repellent, wear long pants, and forget to bring along a lawn chair). Solstice means "standing-still sun," but at this moment the sun actually is nearer to the Earth than it is in June. It's just that our hemisphere is tilting far away from the blazing star. Over thousands of years different cultures have observed what they consider the rebirth of the Sun in many ways, from erecting markers such as Stonehenge to baking special cakes to ensure agricultural fertility. The SCAS suggests you gather family and friends, hop in your car, get on the Tamiami Trail (for those not in the know, that's SW Eighth Street), and drive way west. When you arrive dim your headlights. A ranger will lead you into the park. On this night the only lights you will want to see shining will be from above.