The Sun in Time

Slide Show, Page 2
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About 80 miles west of London on the plains of Salisbury in England, stands a circle of monolithic stones.  This imposing structure known as Stonehenge, was most likely built to mark the positions of the Sun on the horizon.  The construction of Stonehenge began around 2800 B.C.E. and was completed about 1800 B.C.E.

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Since Stonehenge is so large and open, the builders probably intended that it be used as a ceremonial site as well as an observatory.  For important days of the year, such as the summer solstice1, high priests might have entered the monument on the northeast side and called together the people of the area in an attempt to placate the gods, so that the rising Sun would return each year to his place in the north. 
In this view from close to the center of Stonehenge, we see the heel stone in the distance.  On the summer solstice, the Sun would have risen at a point just above the heel stone, marking the most northerly position of the Sun on the horizon.  On days following the summer solstice, the Sun would have risen progressively farther to the south, or to the right of the heel stone. shenge2_ss.jpg (9658 bytes)
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Photo is courtesy of Dr. Tom Sever.

1Summer solstice - in the northern hemisphere, the day when the Sun rises at its most northerly point.  This day is the longest of the year and contrasts with the winter solstice, the shortest day, when the Sun rises at its most southerly extreme.  The equinoxes occur when the Sun rises due east and result in days of equal day and night.

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This work was paid for by the NASA IDEAS program.

Please direct comments, questions, and suggestions to:
Mitzi Adams
mitzi dot adams @ msfc dot nasa dot gov
(256) 961-7626
Last Updated: April 23, 2014