Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Follow the sun

Last Saturday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – always an interesting day to watch shadows. If you missed it, step outside and look at your shadow today – it’s only been three days since the solstice and the effect is very much the same. Early and late in the day your shadow will be long and cast towards the south. At “noon” itself (about 1:40 p.m) there’s not much of a shadow to be seen but it is cast directly south.

Having the sun north of us is an event that never happens in Canada or Europe. In the United States it only occurs in Hawaii – the only U.S. state that lies in the tropics. On the summer solstice the sphere of the earth, spinning on its axis and taking a year to circle the sun, has seemingly traveled as far north as it will go. It has reached the Tropic of Cancer, an imaginary line running parallel to the equator that cuts across northern Mexico, and has started back south to the Tropic of Capricorn.

But looked at another way, those who have made the effort to climb the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, where I was on Saturday, have seen for themselves that the earth is flat. What is spherical is the dome of the sky overhead. And if there is a domed sky overhead there is certainly an equally sized and inverted dome underneath our flat earth. It is the shadow of those domes you see on the moon during a lunar eclipse.

Ancient Mesoamericans also believed that every morning the sun, starting on the eastern horizon, climbs seven enormous steps to get to the center of the sky by noon. Then it goes down six steps to the western horizon. Hence, 13 hours in ancient Mesoamerica’s days.

In order to get back to the east by sunrise the sun goes down five enormous steps to the lowest level of the dome of the underworld – the realm of the dead – and then climbs four enormous steps back up to the eastern horizon ready to illuminate the realm of the living during the day.

Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun seems to be a model of the sky overhead. It too has 13 levels. If you count ground level as level one there are six enormous stepped landings up to the top. The seventh level is missing – it was the roof of the temple at the top – and there are six steps back down to the ground.

Standing atop the Pyramid of the Sun, where the ancient Mesoamericans believed the sun was born, is marvelous any day. Especially so on the summer solstice.

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