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What is the Design of the UMass Sunwheel?

 The design of the UMass Sunwheel is  based primarily on ASTRONOMICAL REQUIREMENTS,  although some aspects of the design will  focus on the Sunwheel as a visual  structure. An essential part of the Sunwheel is  the CENTRAL VIEWING AREA; it is from the  center of the Sunwheel that all of the  sunrise and sunset observations and sightings  are made. The STANDING STONES to be used  in the Sunwheel will be placed in a circle  65 feet from the central viewing area. The  stones will be natural granite monoliths,  approximately 2'x4' at the base and 8'  high, each weighing roughly 3 to 5  tons. The 4 stones marking the SUMMER AND  WINTER SOLSTICE sunrises and sunsets will  each stand 8 feet above ground. For  orientation and symmetry, there will be  standing stones in the NORTH, SOUTH, EAST and  WEST directions as well. Rather than a  single standing stone in the East and West directions,  there will be 2 standing stones approximately 2-3 feet apart,  making a portal. These stone doorways will also be 8 feet high and located 65 feet from the central  viewing area, marking both the cardinal directions and the EQUINOX sunrises and sunsets.
 In addition to the standing stones, there will be an INFORMATIONAL EXHIBIT which is  displayed around the area, describing the  use of the Sunwheel and explaining the  origin of the cycle in the Sun's apparent  motion throughout the year. With this  explanatory information added to the structure,  the SUNWHEEL IS AN OUTDOOR  EDUCATIONAL EXHIBIT WHICH CAN BE USED YEAR  ROUND BY ANYONE.
 The diagram below illustrates the Sun's daily path in the sky on the solstices and equinoxes for observers at mid-northern latitudes.

This diagram illustrates that the Sun rises to the northeast and sets  to the northwest on the Summer Solstice, while the Sun rises to the southeast and sets to the southwest  on the Winter Solstice. Also illustrated is the fact that the Sun is higher in the sky at noon on the  Summer Solstice than on the Winter Solstice, and that  there are more daylight hours in the summer  than winter. The fact that the Sun is higher in the sky in the summer, combined with more daylight  hours, is what causes us to have warm summers. These effects come about because  of the fixed 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis of rotation relative to the plane of our yearly orbit around the Sun.


 In addition to the SOLSTICE, EQUINOX, and NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST STONES,  the Sunwheel will also include a unique feature  -- MOONSTONES. These additional standing stones, to be next to each of the  solstice stones, and 1-2' shorter in height, will mark the extremes in the rising and setting direction of the Moon. Because of the Moon's  18.6 year cycle, the next time the Moon will  reach its major standstill is 2007, and at that time the moonrise and moonset directions  will be toward the MOONSTONES in the Sunwheel. The locations of these stones  were calculated based on the tilt of the  Moon's orbit with respect to the ecliptic.
 Click below to see a figure showing the relative locations of the SOLSTICE STANDING STONES and STONE DOORWAYS.

 Click to see an illustration of the Sunwheel site

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