Echoing an ancient custom, the public is being invited to gather for the annual winter solstice observance at the Okanagan’s own standing stone structure dubbed ‘Pen Henge’ on Munson Mountain in Penticton.
The event, which marks the sun’s southernmost setting point, will take place on Friday afternoon, Dec. 21 with interested people gathering around 3 p.m. in anticipation of sunset at 3.27 p.m.
The solstice gathering is being organized by the Penticton meeting group of the Okanagan Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (OCRASC) and it will be followed by a special reception and celebration at the Shatford Centre, 760 Main St. involving a number of organizations including the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club and the Penticton Art Gallery.
If skies are clear participants gathered at Munson Mountain will see the lengthening shadow cast by the sun over the winter solstice stone gradually extend toward the central heel stone.
At 3.27 p.m. the sun will set in perfect alignment with the two stones as befits the day of winter solstice when the sun reaches its most southerly point of the year.
Last year, more than 100 people witnessed the dramatic event.
This year, plans for the reception afterward at the Shatford Centre will include displays by the Naturalists’ Club as well as astronomical information and telescopes set up by OCRASC members.
The event will also extend to the End of the World as We Know It exhibition underway at the Penticton Art Gallery.
The Pen Henge standing stone array is a project spearheaded by Chris Purton and the Okanagan Astronomical Society which later became part of OCRASC, and which was supported by Penticton City Council and its Parks Department.
The installation, which is located at the top of Munson Mountain above the large Penticton sign on the east side of Okanagan Lake, consists of four stones that delineate the sunset points on the four cardinal dates of the year.
Anchored by the Heel Stone, the Equinox Stone points to the Sun’s sunset point at both the Spring and Fall Equinoxes, while the other two stones mark the Winter and Summer Solstice setting points respectively.
Photos of the array and earlier observances can be viewed on the OCRASC website at www.ocrasc.ca through the Image Gallery link and the Pen Henge folder.
Chris Purton, a retired scientist at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake said, “For most of the year the structure simply illustrates the enormous range along the western horizon where the Sun sets. Most people subconsciously know of this, but they are quite fascinated to see the idea laid out so graphically.”
A brass plaque with a brief explanation of the array is permanently attached to the top of the heel stone.