You probably already celebrated that winter turning point known as the Winter Solstice on December 21st.

But in reality, January 5th is when winter starts to turn the corner, heading back to those warm, long halcyon days of summer.

And while we repeatedly hear about the 21st being the "shortest day of the year", which it is, January 5th is more important especially if you're a morning person in Montana.

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Sunrise, sunset

The Winter Solstice, which happens on, or about, December 21st every year gets a lot of attention. From social media posts to the traditionalists that gather to track the sun at legendary places like Stonehenge, it's a big deal.

In Missoula, our "shortest day of the year" was 8 hours, 31 minutes, and 44 seconds of daylight. The sun rose at 8:18 that morning and vanished at 4:50 pm.

But what you may not know is that the 21st is NOT the earliest sunset, nor is it the latest sunrise.

RELATED: Did You Know Montana Has a Full-sized Stonehenge?

It's all about the astronomy

The video below does a better job of explaining the physics. But in a nutshell, the "shortest day" is actually the date when the declining daylight of both sunrise and sunset intersects.

The earliest sunset was days earlier than the solstice, hitting 4:47 pm around December 6th, and then gaining a few seconds each day.

However, right now, mornings are actually increasingly dark and gloomy, even after the 21st. In fact, the LATEST sunrise of the astronomical year happened Friday morning, at 8:20 am, a full 2-minutes later than December 21st.

 

The solar system ain't perfect, and neither are our clocks

If the earth went around the sun in a perfect circle this wouldn't happen.

In a recent article, Scientific American explained the elliptical orbit, with the earth moving faster in what's called "perihelion", is what "throws off" the perfect timing. And right now, that happens in early January.

If you were still using a sundial instead of that fancy Apple Watch, you'd notice the difference straightaway, since modern clocks and watches don't reflect those 30-second changes that would show up if you were measuring degrees and shadows.

So much for progress.

Something to look forward to

So while we might feel a sense of relief that we've passed the shortest day of the year, if you're out there dodging cars on your New Year's resolution run, or just coping with January in general, news that the Montana sunrise will start being a few seconds earlier each day this weekend should lift your spirits.

Just stop complaining that the fog and snow is interfering with your sundial.

READ MORE: 10 Things to Do If Every Montana Day Was Longest of the Summer

Looking Back at One of Montana's Most Explosive Fires

The 2013 Lolo Creek Fire burned within 6 miles of Missoula

Gallery Credit: Dennis Bragg

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