Sunwheel and Sky-Watching Events Mark the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21

AMHERST, Mass. – The public is invited to witness sunrise and sunset associated with the winter solstice among the standing stones of the UMass Amherst Sunwheel on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Sunwheel events mark the astronomical change of seasons when nights are longest and days are shortest in the Northern Hemisphere and the sun rises and sets at its most southerly azimuth, or location along the horizon, over the southeasterly and southwesterly stones in the Sunwheel, respectively.

UMass Amherst astronomers Judith Young and Steve Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the sun’s solstice, or standstill, during each hour-long gathering. They will also explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, phases of the moon, and building the Sunwheel, and answer questions about astronomical signs of the seasons.

Even though the instant when the sun is most southerly occurs at 12:11 p.m. local time on Dec. 21, 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.

Teachers can earn certificates of participation for attending seasonal gatherings at the Sunwheel; details at the event.

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 freezing temperatures and wet footing. Rain or blizzard conditions cancel the events. A $3 donation is requested to help with the cost of the additional site work and future events.