Live every day like it's Pi Day

Peter Kublik
20 January 2012

You don’t have to work in a lab for science to be part of your every day life. Scientifically significant days have existed for centuries, although these days it’s easier for like-minded citizen scientists to coordinate special days throughout the year.

On the topic of big days, let’s start with a discussion of the longest night. The winter solstice, informally known as midwinter, is the day when the Earth’s axis tilts away from our most favorite star, the Sun. The Earth circles the sun in an oblong orbit at the same time the Earth rotates around its pole. A full rotation of the Earth around its axis is, you guessed it, one day. A full loop around the Sun is one year. Because the Earth’s axis is off center compared to the path of it’s orbit, we have a sort of wobble that gives us our seasons and the varying length of our days.

The day the winter solstice falls on varies based on which hemisphere of the globe you live in, but in Canada the winter solstice usually falls on December 20 or 21. The winter solstice was traditionally celebrated with a feast, before the frost set in and winter rationing started in earnest. The celebrations also feature prominent themes of rebirth or reversal, as the days start to once again get longer following midwinter. How will you celebrate the winter solstice this year?

Very recently we’ve started to celebrate the birthday of the famous astrophysicist, Carl Sagan. Sagan was born on November 9, 1934 and passed away in 1996 at the age of 62. His commitment to science education and outreach has made him a personal hero for myself and many other scientific writers.

One of his crowning achievements was the Voyager Records. The Voyager Records were intended to be a crash course in Humanity 101 for any extraterrestrial life forms that the Voyager spacecraft encountered in her mission into the outer solar system. The records contained recordings of sounds meant to give a glimpse into the diversity of life on Earth. The cover of the record was a road map of the solar system and a set of mathematical instructions in decoding the data within. One of my favorite Internet series, The Symphony of Science, posted a fitting tribute on Sagan’s birthday I encourage you to check out.

No account of the scientific calendar would be complete without mention of my personal favorite, Pi Day. Pi (π) is a non-repeating, non-terminating mathematical constant derived from circle geometry. The first three digits of Pi are 3.14, which translates to March (the third month) 14th. So, on March 14 join in the celebration by enjoying a pie and engaging in some scientific discussion. And, maybe you'll want to buy a t-shirt to really get into the spirit of Pi!

Learn More!

A great explanation of seasons at Universe Today

PC World has a very good article about Pi, from past to present

Article first posted December 8, 2011

Peter Kublik

Peter is a freelance science writer from Calgary, Alberta. He has been granted several exciting opportunities to share his passion for science outreach and education in the media, most recently during a four month media fellowship with CBC Radio's Calgary morning show, the Eyeopener. Outside of the lab he is an amateur photographer, an avid outdoorsman, and an enthusiastic technophile.


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