A new Google Doodle has been released to celebrate the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere (readers based in the Northern Hemisphere will hopefully be getting a little something for the start of summer soon).
The Doodle has been created by artist Christoph Niemann and shows a combined scarf and glove being knitted into the shape of the Google logo.
Niemann is a German illustrator and graphic artists whose work frequently appears in The New York Times. As well as creating artwork for print, Niemann has also experimented with digital technology. In 2013 he created an interactive app called Petting Zoo, where various cartoon animals react to the users’ prods and swipes. A behind the scenes story of the app can be read here.
The beginning of winter or summer in various hemispheres is known as the solstice – a biannual event where the Sun appears at either its highest or lowest point in the sky. This variable placement is created by the axial tilt of the Earth, the same quirk of planetary alignment that gives the earth its seasons.
The name solstice comes from the Latin sol for sun combined with the verb sistre, meaning to stand still. The term has been in use at lease since the time of Pliny the Elder – the Roman natural philosopher who used the word in his Natural History, published between AD 77-79.
The opposite of the solstice is the equinox, another word with Latin etymology meaning “equality of night and day”.
In prehistoric times solstices were important markers that helped early farmers plant and harvest their crops. Many ancient structures in Europe are associated with marking the solstice including Newgrange – a site in Ireland that has an approximate construction date of 3200 BC is older than both the pyramids and Stonehenge.
Although archaeologists can only speculate as to the exact significance of Newgrange, its interior spaces and stone passages align with the rising sun, meaning that during the winter solstice light floods the central chamber.