When the sun comes up for several days around the Winter Solstice, a 5,000-year-old tomb in Ireland can do a special trick.
This year, a sizable crowd gathered outside the Neolithic burial mound to glimpse the annual spectacle.
The Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland predates Stonehenge and the Pyramids in Egypt. Built in a dome shape with a grassy top, it contains a long, narrow tunnel that leads into a cross-shaped inner chamber. Massive stones around the mound have swirling carvings.
Earth's Extreme Tilt Marks The Winter Solstice
When the sun rises on the days right around the Winter Solstice, the tomb entrance allows in a beam that causes the passage to glow. This golden light moves from the ground to the window area and then the rear chamber in a 17-minute Neolithic light show, according to National Geographic.
Although Tuesday is technically the Winter Solstice, Monday morning was supposed to be "the main event," RTÉ correspondent Richard Dowling tweeted. Over the weekend, conditions had been perfect. "Magic and genius of Newgrange never fails to astound on the winter solstice," IrishCentral.com's headline announced.
But this is Ireland, where a clear morning is never a guarantee. (The country recently experienced terrible flooding.) Onlookers who had arrived before dawn outside the tomb wore raincoats and gripped umbrellas.
More than 30,000 people had applied to be inside the tomb for sunrise, but only 16 had won the lottery to be in the chamber, NewsTalk reported. Clouds and rain blotted out the sun. "Rain sees off any chance of magic in the chamber," the Irish Times announced.
What Is the Summer Solstice?
I can sympathize with the disappointed, damp crowd. Unpredictable weather has started to become the norm. My New England hometown is on track for yet another unseasonably warm and rainy Christmas. Having grown up with so much winter snow, this just feels wrong.
Although the Newgrange passage tomb didn't light up as anticipated, the skies along the Irish coast did. A strong geomagnetic storm made Aurora Borealis visible this week, producing a colorful display.