Winter Solstice Sunrise and Sunset Sky-Watching at the UMass Sunwheel
December 21, 2019
UMass Amherst Campus
The public is invited to witness sunrise and sunset among the tall standing stones of the UMass Amherst Sunwheel on the day of the winter solstice, Saturday, Dec. 21, at 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Heavy rain or snow will cancel the gatherings.
At the hour-long gatherings, UMass Amherst astronomer Stephen Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the solstice. He will explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, and the design of the Sunwheel and other calendar sites such as the Temple of Karnak in Egypt and Chankillo in Peru. He will also answer other astronomical questions, such as why the earliest sunset occurs about two weeks before the solstice and the latest sunrise about two weeks later, or why the longest day of the year is actually December 22.
If it is clear during the morning session, a telescope will be set up to observe the waning crescent moon. In the evening session a telescope will be set up to safely observe the surface of the sun.
Sunwheel visitors who stop in on their own will be able to see the sun rising and setting over the winter solstice stones from roughly Dec. 16–26. This is because around the time of the solstice (which means stationary sun) the sun appears to rise at a fixed spot on the southeast horizon and to set in a fixed southwest direction for more than a week.
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.