Penticton ceremony marks winter solstice

Astronomers will gather at Pen Henge Friday afternoon to observe the shadow cast while sun is at its southernmost point in the sky

This Friday, the public is being invited to partake in an ancient rite, and journey to the top of Munson Mountain to observe the winter solstice at the circle of markers that make up the Okanagan’s Pen Henge.

While not as ancient as some of stone circles and other markers, the set of stones put in place three years ago by the Okanagan Astronomical Society fulfills the same function, with the shadows moving from one stone to another marking off important dates in the sun’s travels through the sky.

In this case, that is the sunset marking the sun’s southernmost point on its journey through the sky, which occurs at 3:27 p.m. on Dec. 21. 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 until the sun reaches perfect alignment over the stones. Last year, over 100 people made the trek to witness the event.

“I’ve noticed, ever since we started doing the stuff up on Munson, that more people are interested in the winter solstice … even more than the summer solstice,” said Chris Purton, retired scientist from the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Purton spearheaded the installation of the standing stone array along with the Okanagan Astronomical Society, which later became part of the Okanagan Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

“The winter solstice is big all around the world in the northern hemisphere,” said Purton. “There are huge festivals in all sorts of cultures to celebrate the fact that the sun has stopped fleeing. There is sort of a promise there that it is going to come back. And this is ancient, ancient. This goes back thousands of years.”

Pen Henge consists of a heel stone, plus four stones marking spring and fall equinoxes as well as summer and winter solstices.

“For most of the year the structure simply illustrates the enormous range along the western horizon where the sun sets,” said Purton. “Most people subconsciously know of this, but they are quite fascinated to see the idea laid out so graphically.”

After watching the sunset from atop Munson Mountain, the event continues at the Shatford Centre in Penticton, where Purton promises there will be warm drinks and snacks for people coming down out of the cold, and much more.

The reception includes displays by the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club as well as astronomical information and telescopes set up by OC RASC members. The event will also extend to the ‘End of the World as We Know It’ exhibition underway at the Penticton Art Gallery.

“It is going to be quite an event back there to celebrate the arrival of the solstice and the cessation of the sun fleeing,” said Purton. “The aspect that appeals to me as much as anything is that we are joining in with people right around the world in this sort of event.”

Photos of the array and earlier observances are available online at through the image gallery link to the Pen Henge folder.


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