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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

Safely socially distanced in my little tire house, able to wander the woods every day with a big dog, the new viral reality often seems distant, not an issue on my part of Earth. Getting in my car for a weekly run to the store, the mask on the seat quickly reminds me that things are very different on most of the planet. As virus cases and deaths slow here and grow there, we both move closer to a new, semi-open state and farther from our pre-viral, normal past.

As we all adapt, the seasonal change to summer heads our way. The trees in my yard have become a thick green wall, baby birds abound, my garden is growing, the grass needs mowing, mosquitoes need swatting and all walks end with a check for ticks. I hope you’ve been able to get out and safely enjoy a spring that has been worthy of the name.

For meteorologists, June 1st marks the start of two seasons: hurricane and summer. Hurricane season runs until the end of November; the meteorological summer, through June, July and August. With Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha having already formed over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, we are reminded that Earth processes seldom follow human dates or guidelines.

For astronomers, geologists and humans for thousands of years, the summer solstice marks the beginning of summer. That moment is 5:44 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the 20th, where our tilted planet’s northern end points as far toward the sun as it’s going to in 2020. Celebrate with sunscreen and 14 hours and 45 minutes of daylight!

Solstice means sun stands still, and from our view on Earth, the sun, setting farther to the northwest and rising farther in the northeast since the spring equinox, moves no farther north. Humans have built structures to mark the day and that stopping point for millennium. No need to visit Stonehenge to get the effect; if you have a view of the sunrise or sunset, stand in the exact same spot for a few days before and after and watch.

The long days and lingering twilights of June limit dark sky viewing to less than eight hours, still plenty of time to catch speedy Mercury, dim but easy to spot after and above the sunset in the first half of June. Venus slides unseen between the Earth and Sun on the 3rd, but jumps up and dazzles as the Morning Star by mid-month.  While not quite Super, the Strawberry Full moon will still appear large on the 5th. Jupiter and Saturn rise earlier and earlier all month, bright, but not twinkling, in the southeast before midnight. The sun spends the first three weeks of June in Taurus, moving into Gemini on the 21st. You might want a little bug spray, but the June night sky is worth a look.

Lastly, I’d like to say congratulations to the Louisa County High School class of 2020 – I told you I’d be there, I wanted to be there, to see you take your walk and wish you all the best, but ... well, you know. I did warn you back in ninth grade there was nothing but change. The wonderful supplement to last week’s CV, seeing my ninth graders all grown up, brought back fond memories. Thanks and congratulations to you all, I know you will make us proud.

And, please, stay safe, be smart, stay apart!!

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