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Astronomers celebrate the season

Astronomer Chris Purton points to the alignment of the sun and Pen Henge rock markers at the summit of Munson Mountain, where there will be a gathering to mark the winter solstice on Wednesday. - Mark Brett/Western News
Astronomer Chris Purton points to the alignment of the sun and Pen Henge rock markers at the summit of Munson Mountain, where there will be a gathering to mark the winter solstice on Wednesday.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Chris Purton has his fingers crossed for clear weather next Wednesday.

That’s because Purton and fellow members of the Okanagan Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society are inviting everyone to come join them as they celebrate the winter solstice on top of Munson Mountain, and a nice sunset will clearly show the sun’s southernmost setting point as shadows line up on the heel stone of Pen Henge.

Pen Henge, which is Penticton’s answer to Stonehenge, is three stones marking the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. And at  3:27 p.m. on Dec. 21, the shadow of the winter solstice stone should line up precisely with the heel stone.

“It’s a way to celebrate the solstice, and if the weather is kind to us, we can see the Pen Henge in operation,” said Purton. “The stones are lined up to mark sunset directions at the beginning of each season, and here it is, the beginning of winter.”

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, so from that day on, the days will be growing longer again as the sun climbs back into the northern sky. It’s a time, Purton said, that has been celebrated in many cultures for thousands of years.

“We’re connecting with quite an old tradition,” said Purton. “I was amazed by the variety of different cultures that celebrate winter solstice in their own way all over the world.”

Locally, he continued, that includes the Syilx people. Purton said that according to Richard Armstrong, the Penticton Indian Band’s knowledge keeper, the Syilx watch for the solstice as the time to begin the winter dances.

The event gets underway at about 3 p.m. Purton explains that they like to be up on Munson in time to watch the sun diving into the horizon and see the shadows changing.

“It’s worth being there early,” he said. “But one has to dress warmly.”

 

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