Logo for Sunwheel Project
What is a Sunwheel?
  A SUNWHEEL is a SOLAR CALENDAR and OBSERVATORY; perhaps the best known example of a Sunwheel is Stonehenge. A Sunwheel is an outdoor stone circle whose standing stones line up  with the locations on the horizon of the  rising and setting Sun at the times of the  solstices and equinoxes. A Sunwheel on our  University campus will provide an  EXPERIENTIAL basis for University  students, for school children, and for the  general public to learn about and  understand the cycles exhibited by the Sun throughout the year.

 For thousands of years, human beings  have been intrigued by the cycles in  nature. Astronomically, these cycles  include the daily rising and setting of the  Sun, Moon and stars, the monthly cycle of  phases of the Moon, and the yearly cycle  of the seasons. The long-term  repeatability of these cycles provided an  indication to human beings throughout  time of the presence of order in the  Universe. Cultures which depended upon  farming learned how to use the Sun as a  calendar, and in particular, to mark the  seasons through observations of the  location of sunrise and sunset along the  horizon (cf. Hawkins 1965;  Willimason 1984). Some cultures also used these observations of the Sun to indicate the proper times for ceremonies. Indeed, circles of  standing stones with solar alignments, and  occasionally lunar alignments, are found  throughout the world (Zink 1979). These stone circles were constructed with a detailed  knowledge of astronomy, and they represented the importance of the Sun and Moon  for peoples of a wide variety of cultures  on Earth, dating as far back as 4,800 B.C. (Zink 1979).  Even in the technologically  advanced age in which we live, and whether we pay attention or not, the pattern in the  locations and times of the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon continue.
 THROUGH THE SUNWHEEL, which concretely  illustrates the variations in the Sun's  position on the horizon during the year,  VISITORS WILL GAIN A GREATER AWARENESS  AND UNDERSTANDING OF ASTRONOMY.  Furthermore, the Sunwheel provides not only a  scientific learning experience, but also a cultural, historical, and social one as  well. It is a compelling symbol of the  connection between our modern society  and our past. At the same time, the  Sunwheel represents the present-day  connection between our planet Earth and the  expansive Universe which we see around  us.

To see photographs taken at the Sunwheel between 1997  and 2000, click here.

To see photographs of the Sunwheel since the tall stones were added , click here and click here.

 Click to see a picture of Stonehenge Stonehenge picture
 Click to see a picture of a site in Callanish, Scotland Callinish picture

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

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