At Crossroads, we will celebrate Groundhog Day by loaning skis and snowshoes to anyone who wants to celebrate the beauty of winter. Of course, we loan skis every Sunday, at least when conditions allow. Does this mean we expect the groundhogs to wake up, pop out of their holes, and check their shadows? Here? In Wisconsin? Really?
Groundhog Day is superstition magnified by media hype. In this region, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or even into April. Hibernation is a reliable solution to a squirrelly problem. Yes, groundhogs, also call woodchucks, are squirrels. Other squirrels collect and store nuts and seeds. Groundhogs eat leaves and leafy plants so they store their winter food in the form of body fat.
Before a groundhog goes into hibernation (a state in which body functions and temperature are significantly reduced), it seals itself into a chamber with dirt, which is probably just as well, because other animals-think skunks or snakes– use groundhog holes for their winter naps.
A groundhog might wake up on Sunday—periodic arousals keep hibernating animals from slipping from “near-death” into being “truly and sincerely dead.” Some scientists have another idea. They think that groundhogs might come out of hibernation from time to time to catch up on their sleep. Apparently, the body functions of a hibernating animal are so reduced that the brainwaves of sleep are impossible. And though we don’t completely understand why, we all know that sleep is essential.
So a groundhog might wake up for a bit to prevent itself from freezing or maybe to sleep for a while, but it is not going to pop out of its hole.
Our secular holiday actually goes back to the religious observance of Candlemas, which was celebrated by 40 days after Christmas. Somehow, European Christians came to belive that if a hedgehog (or maybe it was European badgers which are NOTHING like Wisconsin Badgers) saw its shadow on February, weather would improve. Hedgehog? Groundhog? Something, but not the superstition, was lost in translation.
Apparently, in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union defined a planet as a celestial body which “is in orbit around the Sun, has a sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium. and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit” a lot got lost in translation. Folks are still complaining that Pluto is not on the Crossroads Planet Walk.
“Assumes hydrostatic equilibrium” pertaining to planets essentially means “being round.” And that is the topic for the February 4th meeting of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society. The program will be a video presentation; “On Being Round” featuring Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and named “the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” by People Magazine, Tyson has knack for explaining complex concepts in a way that non-scientists can understand. In addition to the video presentation, Tom Minihan will present “This Month in Astronomy.” The Public is welcome at the 7:00 meeting at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center.