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Solstice events at UMass set for Thursday, Friday

AMHERST — The public is invited to witness sunrise and sunset associated with the summer solstice among the standing stones of the UMass Sunwheel on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for sunset and on June 21 at 5 a.m. for sunrise. These events will mark the astronomical change of season when days are longest and nights are shortest in the Northern Hemisphere. Rain cancels the events.

At these hour-long gatherings, UMass astronomers Judith Young and Stephen Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the sun’s solstice or standstill. They also explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, phases of the moon, building the Sunwheel and other calendar sites such as Stonehenge in England and Chichen Itza in Mexico. They explain the moon’s 18.6-year cycle known as the Major Lunar Standstill and will answer questions about these topics.

Young says the sunrise gathering on June 21 will include elements of ritual, personal reflection, poetry, song and meditation along with the astronomy information.

Though the instant when the sun is most northerly occurs on June 21 at 1:04 a.m., there is little noticeable change in the sun’s position for about 10 days, so visitors can see sunrise and sunset over the taller summer solstice standing stones from about June 16 to 26.

Teachers can earn certificates of participation for attending. Details at: www.astro.umass.edu/~young/pdp.html

The sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road (Amity Street) 1∕4-mile south of University Drive. Visitors to the Sunwheel should be prepared for wet footing and mosquitoes. A $3 donation is requested to help with the cost of the additional site work and future events.

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