AMHERST, Mass. – The public is invited to observe sunrise and sunset of the longest day of the year among the standing stones of the UMass Amherst Sunwheel on Friday, June 21 at 5 a.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. UMass Amherst astronomer Stephen Schneider will explain the astronomical cause of the solstice and answer questions at the hour-long gatherings.
At 11:54 a.m. EDT on June 21, the Sun will reach its northernmost position relative to the stars, marking the astronomical start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. On the date of the solstice, daylight is longest and nighttime is shortest in the Northern Hemisphere, and your shadow is its shortest at midday.
Standing stones mark positions of the sun and moon
The Sunwheel’s standing stones mark the changing positions of the sun and moon throughout the year, much like ancient calendar-stone sites such as Stonehenge and Chankillo in Peru. On the date of the solstice, the sun rises and sets farthest north at spots along the horizon marked by tall standing stones. Other stones mark the position of the sun at the equinoxes and winter solstice.
The sun’s northerly position changes so gradually around the date of the solstice that it rises and sets at almost the same position for more than a week. This is the origin of the word solstice, which means “stationary sun.” Sunwheel visitors who stop in on their own will be able to see the sun rising and setting over the summer solstice stones from roughly June 16–26.
If it is clear during the morning session, a telescope will be set up to observe the waning gibbous moon, and in the evening session to safely observe the surface of the sun before sunset.
Directions to the Sunwheel
The UMass Amherst Sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road (Amity St.) about one-quarter mile west of University Drive. Visitors to the Sunwheel should be prepared for wet footing and mosquitoes. The events will be canceled in the event of heavy rain.