Hundreds of people will gather at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst today to do something that our ancestors have been doing for millennia: watch the Sun rise or set behind pillars of stone.
Today is of particular interest because it's the autumnal equinox -- the day the Sun crosses the equator from north to south. It marks the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere. It's also one of two days when the Sun rises due east and sets due west; the other is the vernal equinox in March.
Over the millennia, people have built special places to watch for the equinoxes, and for the solstices in June and December. Many of these sites are circles of stones. The most famous is Stonehenge, but other ancient sites are found around the world -- including North America.
These sites inspired astronomy professor Judith Young to build her own circle of stones in Amherst. She put in small stones in 1997, and replaced them with slabs of granite in 2000.
Her circle is called a sunwheel. It's 130 feet in diameter, and consists of 12 tall blocks. From the center of the circle, four of the blocks mark the sunrise and sunset points on the solstices. Four more mark the northern- and southernmost rising and setting points for the Moon. And four more align with the cardinal directions.
So today, people can watch as the Sun rises behind the block that's due east, and sets due west, as it always does on the equinox -- no matter where you are.
Reprinted from Portable Poetry Portal - July 31, 2005
sun is East coming up
goes South for lunch
down for dinner
setting on the West side
North, invited or not
calls the place and time