Public, Press Invited to Witness Winter Solstice at UMass Amherst Sunwheel

AMHERST, Mass. - Members of the University community and the general public are invited to join Professor Judith Young of the University of Massachusetts astronomy department to watch the sun rise and set over the new tall standing stones in the UMass Sunwheel, marking the winter solstice. Sunrise and sunset gatherings will be held on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 21 and 22. The UMass Sunwheel is located south of Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road.

Visitors for the winter solstice sunrise viewing should arrive at 7 a.m., and visitors for the sunset viewing should arrive no later than 3:45 p.m., Young says. "The sky will be particularly beautiful at sunrise both mornings, since the waxing crescent moon will have risen several hours before the sun. For those interested in learning about the sky, there will be a presentation that will include the cause of the seasons, the sun’s path in the sky, the phases of the moon, and the story of building the UMass Sunwheel. Bring your questions, your camera, your curiosity, and dress very warmly," she says

Young has made astronomy presentations to more than 1,500 individuals and 800 schoolchildren who visited the preliminary sunwheel, which was constructed of 2-foot-tall boulders in May of 1997. The sunwheel was completed with 14 8-foot-tall, granite monoliths this fall. Young was inspired to create the UMass Sunwheel during a trip to Montana in 1992, where she saw a sunwheel constructed long ago, probably by the Blackfeet Indian tribe. The UMass Sunwheel is the only original sunwheel in the world located at a university, according to Young.

All visitors should wear warm clothing, suitable for standing still on frozen or soggy ground, and may wish to bring a folding chair and/or a blanket, Young advises.

A $3 donation is requested. Sunwheel T-shirts, sweatshirts, and other items will be available for purchase to help cover the cost of future stone paths and landscaping at the site, which now includes the 8-10 foot-tall standing stones.

For more information, contact Judith S. Young at 413/545-4311 or young@astro.umass.edu.