I'm Thankful for the Number 23.5

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

This is the time of the year where the questions gets posed about what we are thankful for. When I think about how I would answer that it’s a little overwhelming.  I have much to be thankful for, and it’s hard to narrow down that topic.  But here goes: today I’m thankful for the number 23.5, the angle of axial tilt for planet Earth.  It is this celestial eccentricity - as we learn in grade school - that gives us our changes in seasons.   And it’s these changes in seasons that are the basis of so many of our holidays and celebrations.

Thanksgiving may be a North American holiday, but it is essentially a harvest festival.  These have been celebrated for millennia - and why not? Better to throw a party when the silo is full and the livestock is plump.  How would our Northern hemispheric agriculture function if we did not have the seasons to sow and to reap?   Apart from farming, look at how the changes in seasons affect life on Earth.

Lately, multitudes of birds have been migrating south for the winter towards warmer climes. It’s kind of like how a dog or a cat knows intuitively where the sunny spot on the rug will be on a much grander scale.  Other mammals - including yours truly - have been getting drowsier with the longer nights.  There is something deep in our brains that locks us onto our planetary cycle.  Somehow we all find our equilibrium with nature, don‘t we?  Bears hibernate. And some of us cope with winter by watching the Bears on television with a plate of nachos.   I’m thankful for that. 

It’s not as if other planets and celestial bodies don’t have their axial perturbations. Some have less tilt, others have more. There is nothing particularly magical about 23.5 except that it is our tilt, and we have slowly evolved with it.  But these things can change: it was detected that the big earthquakes recently in Chile and Japan changed the tilt of the Earth ever so slightly.   And the gravitational pull of the Moon also affects our tilt, albeit slowly.   

We should be grateful that we found ourselves in a celestial sweet spot - as far as life is concerned - here on green and blue Earth.  We’re not too hot (think: Venus) or too cold (think: Pluto).   Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice warns of death by either extreme. But as long as we avoid nuclear fireballs and the corresponding nuclear winters our longer term view should be predictable and manageable.   And for that, I am thankful.  

Three cheers for twenty three point five

The tilt that keeps us all alive

Not cold like Mars 

We drive in cars

And never over fifty-five

Hear hear for three, point-five and twenty!

The reason (yes!) for all this plenty

We’re baked just right, not hot like Venus.

Where men (I’m told) don’t have a 


Hip hip hooray, for Earthly tilt

It’s warm enough to wear a kilt.

The seasons come, the seasons go.

It’s such great fun, all this living

I wish you all a grand Thanksgiving

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