Tuesday, September 28, 2021

First light in the Newark Octagon

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Here is my account of the first modern observation. In 2005, as we approached the time of the 2006 lunar standstill when the rising moon has moved to its farthest point to the north along the eastern horizon, a few of us were keen to view, and for me, to test the calculations of Ray Hively and Bob Horn, two Earlham College professors. They had been teaching a course that explored the hypothesis that Stonehenge has celestial alignments built into its architecture. The following question arose in their course: how likely is it that celestial alignments might appear in any randomly selected archaeological site?  As a subject, they chose to explore the Newark Earthworks for their study. Result: a number of lunar alignments were discovered in the Newark Octagon which had strong correlations with the extreme rising and setting points along the eastern and western setting points along the eastern and western horizons. The alignments discovered had the remarkable accuracy of about one to two degrees. Improbable? Confirm by making observations. (Of course, their measurements and calculations supported their hypotheses.)

As the 2006 major lunar standstill period approached the monthly lunar moonrises should  tend to occur along the horizon at their most northern point. Several of us decided to try to view it and to test Hively and Horn’s research hypothesis. During this period, we should see the moon rise in alignment along the primary axis of the Octagon. Since this extreme standstill only slowly changes over a period of a couple of years (that is why it is called a standstill), every month the moon will rise at very nearly the same northern location on the horizon.  o in October of 2005, we calculated the time of the moonrise and headed to the Octagon-Circle’s Observatory Mound to make our observation.  Words fail to adequately describe what we observed and felt. The moon rose directly along the Octagon’s main axis. Hively and Horn’s hypothesis was correct!  We experienced what the builders of the Octagon had so many centuries before.  It had likely been hundreds of  years since anyone had purposely observed this phenomenon as we have not discovered either oral or written record. Brad Lepper, Dick Shiels, Jeff Gill and I experienced what those ancients saw, for us, a very emotional event. In my case as an astronomer, I confirmed the hypothesis proposed by Hively and Horn however the experience was quite a different one for the others.

Source Mike Mickelson is a Denison University professor emeritus, Department of Physics and Astronomy

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