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HomeThe Sun Circle

The Sun Circle

The Sun Circle, located in the center of Beach Bluff Park, is an astronomical sculpture.  The stone sentinels, surrounding a central platform, mark the locations of the rising and setting sun on the solstice and equinox dates throughout the year as well as north and south directions.

To use the sculpture, stand on the central basalt stone disc.  Look down to orient your direction by locating the north, south, east, and west markers (N, S, E, W).  Next, locate the line, which passes through the sunrise and sunset equinox positions (E, W).
Look up, and you will see the pairs of stone pillars that delineate the sunrise and sunset locations on the spring and autumnal equinox, typically around March 21st and September 21st.  The sunrise on the equinox is particularly special as the sun's rays pass between the gap in the eastern stones creating a spectacular sunburst.

Look along the lines which pass through the four other points on the circle, corresponding to single stones, which mark sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices, occurring around June 21st and December 21st.

Single stone columns mark the north and south axis, completing the circle, and providing important reference points for the sculpture.  The numbers in the center of the circle indicate the longitude and latitude of the site.



Summer Solstice
On the summer solstice, around June 21, the sun rises at the point on the horizon that is farthest north - 32 degrees north of east.  And the moment of the winter solstice is the exact moment when the earth’s axis is tilted closest to the line connecting the center of the earth and the sun producing the longest day in the northern hemisphere and the shortest in the southern. The word  “solstice” comes from the Latin for “sun stands still” - since the sun seems poised at its rising place for a day or two.

Equinox
The sun rises directly in the east only twice a year, once in fall and once in spring. On that day, the earth's axis is perpendicular to the line connecting the earth and sun and the day and night are of equal length. "Equinox" comes from the Latin for "equal night".


There are two equinoxes - one on around September 21 which announces the start of autumn and one on around March 21 which announces the beginning of spring.

Winter Solstice
On the winter solstice, around December 21, the sun rises at the point on the horizon that is farthest farthest south - 32 degrees south of east.  The moment of the winter solstice is the exact moment when the earth’s axis is tilted farthest from the line connecting the center of the earth and the sun producing the shortest day in the northern hemisphere and the longest in the southern. The word  “solstice” comes from the Latin for “sun stands still” - since the sun seems poised at its rising place for a day or two.

Ceremonial participatory events are held at the Sun Circle four times a year — at solstice and equinox sunrises.

All are welcome to join in celebrating our connection with the natural world and  the change of seasons.

Don Orne, Gong Master, leads the gathering of friends, neighbors, and guests in a participatory celebration of the season's start. Bruce Greenwald, sculptor and architect, is usually on hand to answer questions about the Sun Circle and its design.

For information about upcoming  sunrise events, check out our Event Calendar.

SlideshowSun Circle Ceremonies

About The Sculpture

The Sun Circle was designed by Bruce Greenwald as a sculpture attuned to the solar cycles that guide our planet and our lives. Based on solar geometries, the installation will consist of a ring or “henge” of seven-foot columnar basalt columns from the Columbia River Basin in Moses Lake, Washington.

At two points along the circle, there are pairs of stone pillars, set four to five inches apart that demarcate the sunrise and sunset locations on the spring and fall equinox dates. At the key moments on these two days, the sun’s rays will pass between the gap in the stones, creating a spectacular sunburst. At four points along the circle, single stone pillars denote the locations of the sunrise and sunset on the solstice dates, acting as parens for the extreme points of the sun rise on the horizon. Single stone pillars mark the north and south axis of the circle to complete the design and provide directional bearings. Although the effect is especially dramatic during equinox and solstice events, the locations of the stones will help viewers to understand solar positions throughout the year. 

The rough stone monoliths maintain their natural finish in harmony with the simplicity and serenity of the seaside site. Basalt has been selected as the material for the sculpture since it forms naturally in monolithic shapes and is one of the predominant types of stone that form the geology at this site. Eight of the stones include a simple contoured cut that will express an aspect of “capturing” the sun along its journey. The stone pairs at the equinox locations also signify an abstraction of a conversation between two persons as they view the solar path. At the center of the installation is a circular stone dais: the geometric center that provides the key vantage point to experience all of these solar events from a single location. This platform is etched with inscriptions that help the viewer to understand the annual cycle.

Most people do not realize that the sun appears in a different location each day of the year. This sculpture will help people to understand this concept in a clear and meaningful way. With the creation of this astronomical construct, the sculptor aims to provide a thought-provoking tool to broaden the viewer’s experience to include the sky and the solar system beyond. 
Celebrating the sun's path has a long tradition in many cultures. Too often the deep essentials of our life on this planet are ignored. Although this sculpture will be a permanent installation, it speaks more about the passage of time, the changing seasons, the cycles of life, and how we experience them in relationship to our surroundings. It will be a marker and reference point to understand that we are constantly moving even when standing still.