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Sunwheel in Winter


  • Sunday December 21, 2014
  • 7:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (EST)

The public is invited to witness the passing of the seasons by joining Dr. Judith Young of the U.Mass. Dept. of Astronomy to watch the Sun rise and set over the tall standing stones in the U.Mass. Sunwheel for the Winter Solstice of 2014. The sunrise and sunset events will be held on Sunday December 21, 2014. Visitors for the sunrise viewing should arrive at 7:00 a.m., and visitors for the sunset viewing should arrive at 3:30 p.m. EST. These gatherings will celebrate the Winter Solstice and 17 years of Sunwheel seasonal events for the public, which have attracted over 10,000 visitors.

For those interested in learning about the sky, the Sunwheel gatherings at sunrise and sunset will include presentations which describe the significance of the solstices & equinoxes, the cause of the seasons and phases of the Moon, the story of building the Sunwheel, and other calendar sites around the world such as Stonehenge & Callanish in the UK and Chichen Itza in Mexico. Additionally, there will be an explanation of the Moon's 18.6-year cycle, also alled the Major Lunar Standstill. Come gather in community and connect with the sky -- bring your questions, your curiosity, and be prepared for freezing temperatures including waterproof footwear. The gatherings typically last 1 hour, and are held in all weather except rain and blizzards. Please note: The sunrise event will be more ceremonial and participatory in nature, including elements of ritual, personal reflection, poetry, song, and meditation, along with teachings on the astronomy of the seasons.

Donation: A $3 donation is requested to help with the cost of the additional sitework and future events which are planned. Sunwheel T-shirts & sweatshirts will also be available for purchase.

About the Winter Solstice (in the Northen hemisphere):
At the time of the December Solstice, or Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere, the days are shortest, the nights are longest, and the Sun rises and sets at its most southerly azimuth (location along the horizon). As seen from the center of the U.Mass. Sunwheel, tall standing stones mark the direction to look to see the Winter Solstice sunrise and sunset. The Winter Solstice is also the time when observers located on the Tropic of Capricorn (latitude = -23.5°) will have the Sun pass directly overhead at local noon, and at noon they will cast no shadow. The word 'solstice' means standstill of the Sun, and refers to the fact that at solstice, the Sun appears to rise in a fixed SE direction for ~10 days (and set in a fixed SW direction for ~10 days), as well as achieve the same mid-day altitude in the sky for ~10 days. And even though the instant of Solstice, when the Sun is most southerly, is on Dec. 21 @ 6:03 p.m. EST, visitors will be able to see the Sun rising and setting over the tall Winter Solstice standing stones from roughly December 16-26. The astronomical cause of the Sun's standstill is one of the topics which will be explained during the Sunwheel gatherings.

Location: The UMass Sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road. The Sunwheel can easily be reached from the center of Amherst, following Amity St. to the west, on the right hand side of the road about 1/4 mile after crossing University Drive.

More Information: For more information on the U.Mass. Sunwheel, click here. For more information on the Moon's 18.6-year cycle, click here. For information on other programs offered by Dr. Judith Young, click here.


For directions from out of town, click here.

For a map showing the Sunwheel on the UMass Amherst campus, click here.


For the dates and times of Sunwheel gatherings, click here.

  A project conceived by Dr. Judith S. Young
 Professor of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
 e-mail: Judith Young at young@astro.umass.edu

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