In praise of tilt

June 21 was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. In celebration, jubilant physics students from across the globe went to Stonehenge, beating drums and casting about flowers, singing, chanting and leaping for joy, all in praise of tilt. I know their teachers must be proud.

This tilt of which I speak is not the tilt of the lost cause, as in Don Quixote tilting at windmills; it is not the tilt of overzealous gamesmanship, as in the flashing red TILT of the pinball machine; nor is it the tilt of the reveler who, after a bit too much partying, leans against a light pole to keep the world from falling over.

No my friends, June 21 is our celebration of the mother of all tilts, the tilt of this little spaceship earth as it moves in its orbit around the sun.

Without this tilt, Richard the III would never have uttered those melancholy words: Now is the winter of our discontent. Without this tilt, Ella Fitzgerald would never have sung: Summertime, and the livin’ is easy; Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.

Without this tilt, no school child would have ever exclaimed: Spring is sprung, the grass is riz! I wonder where the birdies is?

If not for tilt, most of the earth would be uninhabitable. There would be no seasons and not much affordable real estate.

And here’s a terrifying thought: without tilt, Canada would be buried under a glacier 20 miles thick and hordes of maple-syrup-starved Canucks would have re-settled in Boca Raton, where prescription drugs would be cheap, taxes sky-high and everyone would end their questions in eh?

Tilt is something of a miracle. Some have simply shrugged their shoulders as if to say, Tilt Happens. But tilt is one of those life-encouraging oddities we find throughout our world—it is completely unnecessary to the grand scheme of celestial mechanics, but it makes all the difference in the world for the existence of life on earth.

Mark Ritter is a California high school teacher and astronomy enthusiast who writes an especially fine newspaper column on astronomical events called The Skies Above. His column appears in the better California newspapers, as well as on the web site of the First Light Astronomy Club. Ritter, who has a gift for lucid and interesting writing, has written several articles in praise of tilt. Two that I especially recommend are The Winter Solstice and Ancient Culture and Solstice and Tilt of the Earth. Bookmark Ritter’s site and go there often. He does a great job of keeping his readers up-to-date on the latest interesting happenings in the sky.

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