Vernal (Spring) Equinox at Stonehenge.

25 02 2017

The Spring Equinox in 2017 falls on March 20th and occurs at 10:28am GMT. The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°. Everywhere on Earth has a day and night of almost equal length and it marks the beginning of the northern spring season.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge. Copyright

There is considerable debate in the archaeoastronomy community as to whether the Equinox had any special meaning for the builders of Stonehenge. They had no accurate clocks by which they could determine when the day and night were almost exactly equal and discovering the mid-point between the Winter and Summer solstice can be done in a couple of obvious ways.

You can count the days and divide by two. Or you can mark the summer and winter sunrise positions along the horizon and divide that line into two equal parts. These two methods give different results.

For example, counting the days between Winter Solstice 2016 (December 21st) and Summer Solstice 2017 (June 21st) gives 182 days. Half of that is 91, meaning the midpoint would fall on March 22nd 2017 – two days after the actual Equinox.

north_season

The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°

 

Using the “divide the horizon” approach causes an additional problem – at the Solstices do you mark the first gleam of the Sun appearing, the point when half of it is above the horizon or when it has fully risen and the full orb is standing exactly on the horizon?

The difference in position between using “first gleam” and “full orb” is about 1.5° because the Sun rises at an angle. As a result the halfway position could be 0.75° different depending on your choice and that is one and a half times the width of the Sun’s disc, potentially putting your Equinox out by a day or so.

In any event, there is no alignment through Stonehenge for the Equinox and what’s more there isn’t even a clear sightline directly through the monument that runs true East-West towards the Equinox sunrise position, in the way that there are clear sightlines for the Solstice sunrises and sunsets.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice photo of an equinox sunrise when it’s clear, because you can.

equinox-sunrise

English Heritage Charitable Trust allows everyone in to the centre of the monument for the Spring Equinox sunrise, in the same way that they do for the Autumn Equinox and the two Solstices, through their “Managed Open Access” events. It’s one of only four occasions in the year when open access is allowed.

It’s worth checking with their customer services department (0370 333 1181) a week or so ahead because sometimes they set the actual day of the open access to be different to the day when the Equinox occurs.

Equinox open accesses attract fewer people than the Solstices – in the several hundreds rather than tens of thousands – and there are modern Druid ceremonies which are held in the circle around dawn, so if you prefer a quieter experience then attending an Equinox is a good choice.

If you do visit Stonehenge on the Equinox please respect the special terms of entry and read this blog: ‘Respecting the Stones’

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join a specialist organised small group tour.  Use a only a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions of entry.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company offering award winning discreet tours from London. Solstice Events offer small group sunrise tours using only local expert guides.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Stonehenge Spring (Vernal) Equinox Open Access: 20th March 2016

8 03 2016

The ‘Managed Open Access’ at Stonehenge for the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, will be from approximately 05.45 am until 08.30 on 20th March 2016

• Access to Stonehenge for the Spring Equinox will take place on the morning of 20th March 2016 (source: http://www.sarsen.org/)

The Vernal Equinox is at 04:30GMT
Sunrise will be 6.07am

Stonehenge-Spring-Equinox-2015 (60)

• Entrance to the monument will commence as soon as ‘light-levels’ are deemed safe enough to permit. For the past couple of years this has occurred around 0545h however EH would ask that people are patient should the morning prove ‘overcast’ and a slight delay occurs.

• Access to Stonehenge will cease at 0830h and the cooperation of all of visitors in ensuring the monument is vacated at this time would be most appreciated.

• Temporary toilets (Porta-Loos) will be available at the monument once the site is open for public access. This includes a provision for those with disabilities.

•The Cafe and Shop at the new Visitor Centre at Airmans Cross should be opening for visitors from approximately 0800h on the morning of 20 March. Please note that the toilets at this location will also become available for use at this time. Although the Cafe will be opening only hot and cold drinks will be available for the first hour. Pasties etc will become available after 0900h.

Final confirmation from English Heritage as to these arrangements has not been forthcoming so please check before relying on this notice.

Follow us on Twitter for the lastest news and Equinox Sunrise pics

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First Day of spring: Stonehenge crowd gathers for Equinox sunrise

22 03 2015

The first day of spring has been marked by more than 800 revellers who gathered at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise.

Stonehenge-Spring-Equinox-2015 (54)

Despite a cloudy forecast, @St0nehenge tweeted the gathering had been “blessed with a perfect sunrise”

Druids and pagans were joined by a mass of revellers at the ancient monument to celebrate the spring or vernal equinox.

Open access to the stones was given from first light, 05:45 GMT, by English Heritage which manages the site.

Senior druid King Arthur Pendragon, who performed the sunrise ceremony, said: “We’re lucky, we used to get 200 people but now it’s up to nearly 1,000.”

Despite a cloudy forecast, @St0nehenge tweeted that the gathering had been “blessed with a perfect sunrise”.

“A lot of people are coming out to sacred places to celebrate the turning of the wheel, which is what paganism is about,” said Mr Pendragon.

“We don’t worship nature, we worship the divine through nature and so we worship at the times of the year when it’s auspicious – spring, summer, autumn and winter.”

English Heritage opens the ancient stone circle for the spring equinox as well as the winter and summer solstice

Full article (source) and more images at the BBC website: (Nice to see the BBC’s reference to our twitter account)

Follow us here for all the latest / ongoing Stonehenge news: https://twitter.com/ST0NEHENGE

There are many some fantastic images on the Stonehenge Stone Circle Flickr page

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Friday will see a rare cosmic coincidence. Was Stonehenge used to predict eclipses?

19 03 2015

As the eclipse plunges Wiltshire and other places into darkness this Friday (March 20th), two other rare if less spectacular celestial events will be taking place, too: the Spring equinox and a Supermoon. Friday will see three rare celestial events and this will be the first time in living memory that the Spring equinox, a solar eclipse, and a supermoon are all taking place on the same day in the UK.

One of the most intriguing mysteries in the world is the Stonehenge. Nobody knows who built the mysterious Stone Circle in Wiltshire, or what its purpose was exactly. There are many theories associated with Stonehenge and archaeologists have been debating for ages to determine why it was built. Most experts believe that Stonehenge is actually an ancient astronomical calculator.

Eclipses have long been feared as bad omens, but the equinox is celebrated as a time of renewal

Eclipses have long been feared as bad omens, but the equinox is celebrated as a time of renewal

Eclipse Cycles

Now, it’s widely accepted that Stonehenge was used to predict eclipses. The inner “horseshoe” of 19 stones at the very heart of Stonehenge actually acted as a long-term calculator that could predict lunar eclipses. By moving one of Stonehenge’s markers along the 30 markers of the outer circle, it’s discovered that the cycle of the moon can be predicted. Moving this marker one lunar month at a time – as opposed to one lunar day the others were moved – made it possible for them to mark when a lunar eclipse was going to occur in the typical 47-month lunar eclipse cycle. The marker would go around the circle 38 times and halfway through its next circle, on the 47th full moon, a lunar eclipse would occur.

Aubrey Holes
Stonehenge has a ring of 56 pits that are now known as Aubrey holes, after antiquarian John Aubrey. They date back to the late fourth and early fifth millennium. These holes were not really noticed until the 1920s. It’s believed that the only standing feature at Stonehenge at the time these holes were dug was the Heel Stone – the marker of the midsummer sunrise – but this is now proven false. Some experts believe they were meant to hold timbers or more stones, but the astronomical interpretations of these holes are very interesting. It’s also believed that the holes helped to predict astronomical events. Complicated math theories back this up to some degree, as some lunar eclipses can be predicted by using numbers associated with Stonehenge. It’s even believed that Stonehenge was used to keep track of lunar cycles by moving marker stones two holes per day, ending with 56 holes.

Hawkins
Meanwhile, Gerald Hawkins studied Stonehenge much later, in 1965, using computer programs. He found multiple solar and lunar alignments that correlated with the location

of Stonehenge. He set his data so that the positions of the stars and planets would match where they were in 1500 B.C., when he believed it was built, and found that 13 solar correlations and 11 lunar correlations matched up with the megalithic stages. In other words, he believed Stonehenge was used to predict astronomical events. He also believed that it was built to align with the position of the summer and winter solstices.

What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, hiding the sun from view and blocking out the sunlight that usually reaches us.

The eclipse, which will be partial, not total, will begin here at around 8.45am on Friday and peak at around 9.30am before ending at 10.30am. It will be the biggest eclipse since August 1999.

Spring equinox

The equinox will also happen on March 20th. While it won’t have any discernable, direct impact on how the solar eclipse looks, it will contribute to a rare collision of three unusual celestial events.

On March 20th, the Earth’s axis will be perpindecular to the sun’s rays — which only happens twice a year, at the two equinoxes. After that, it will start tipping over, making the days longer in the northern hemisphere.

As such, the equinox has long been celebrated as a time of beginning and renewal, by a number of historic cultures, and is linked to Easter and Passover.

The equinox will happen at the same time as a solar eclipse in 2053 and 2072, though it doesn’t always appear as close together as that.

English Heritage will welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring (Vernal) Equinox on Saturday 21st March. Expect a short period of access, from first light (approximately 05:45am) until 08:30am. Click here for more info

Supermoon

A very rare supermoon eclipse of the sun is happening this week that won’t take place again until 2034.  A supermoon is when a full, or new moon coincides with the night when the earth and moon’s orbits move them slightly closer together, making the moon look about 14% bigger, and 30% brighter than normal. This generally happens roughly once every 14 months, but can happen more often; in January 2014, there were actually two supermoons in a single month.

In the past, groups have argued that the supermoon could cause natural disasters, madness, or even throw the earth off its axis. Experts agree that the worst thing that might happen is the tide comes in another inch that night.  As well as a supermoon, there is also an event when a full moon is as far away from earth as possible; this is called a micromoon, for obvious reasons.

Some useful Links:

Solar eclipse, Supermoon, Spring equinox:

Solar Eclipse, Supermoon, Spring Equinox: 3 Rare Celestial Events Align March 20th

Solar Eclipse 2015: How to watch a solar eclipse safely

Stonehenge: An Astronomical Calculator

Astro-Archaeology at Stonehenge

Remember that no one should look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse without proper equipment, as it can damage the eyes.

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