UMass Amherst Sunwheel and Sky-Watching Events Mark the Summer Solstice on June 21

AMHERST, Mass. – Despite the recent death of University of Massachusetts Amherst astronomer and Sunwheel creator Judith Young, public events associated with the spring and fall equinoxes and summer and winter solstices among the standing stones will continue, says Stephen Schneider, chair of the astronomy department.

“Judy’s talks at the Sunwheel over the past 17 years attracted more than 10,000 visitors who learned from her about astronomical events and marveled with her over the beauty of the standing stones and how people marked the seasons in prehistory. We are honored to carry on this tradition in her memory and to continue offering the opportunity for individuals and families to learn more about the cycles of the sky at the UMass Amherst Sunwheel.”

This month the summer solstice will be observed at the Sunwheel on Saturday, June 21 at 5 a.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. The exact moment of the solstice is 6:51 a.m. EDT on Saturday, marking the astronomical change of season when days are longest and nights are shortest in the Northern hemisphere. There is very little change in the sun’s position for about 10 days around this date, so visitors to the Sunwheel can see the sun rising and setting over the tall summer solstice standing stones from about June 16-26.

At the hour-long gatherings, UMass Amherst astronomers discuss the astronomical cause of the sun’s solstice or standstill, which refers to the fact that the sun appears to rise at a fixed spot on the northeast horizon for more than a week, as marked by the tallest stones in the Sunwheel, and to set in a fixed northwest direction. They explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, moon phases, building the Sunwheel and other calendar sites such as Stonehenge and Chichen Itza.

They will answer visitors’ astronomical questions. If the sky is clear, a solar telescope will be set up to safely observe the surface of the sun, and there may be an opportunity for a telescopic view of the crescent moon at the morning session. Heavy rain cancels the gathering. Teachers can earn certificates of participation for attending seasonal gatherings at the Sunwheel. Contact Stephen Schneider at schneider@astro.umass.edu for more information.

The UMass Amherst Sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road (Amity St.) about one-quarter mile south of University Drive. Visitors to the Sunwheel should be prepared for wet footing and mosquitoes. Donations to help with the cost of additional site work and future events are greatly appreciated.