The approaching Major Lunar Standstill

Forums Moon The approaching Major Lunar Standstill

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    Alan Snook

    Recently you may have noticed the Moon getting into parts of your sky where you aren’t accustomed to see it – either unusually low in the south or nearer the zenith. You may be surprised to see how far south it is rising and setting and how low it transits, then just two weeks later how far north it is rising and setting. This is happening because the Moon is creeping up on its maximum nothern and southern declination it can ever reach. This happens once every 18/19 years.

    It is likely this phenomena was tracked and recorded by our distant ancestors using megalithic sites. For one, the Station Stone Rectangle at Stonehenge is suitably aligned. According to Fred Hoyle’s book ‘On Stonehenge’ this alignment was first indentified in 1963 by an amateur astronomer, Mr C. A. Newham. The term ‘Major Lunar Standstill’ (and Minor Lunar Standstill when the swing in declination hits its minimum) appears to have been coined by Prof Alexander Thom. Thom made accurate surveys of many of the UK’s megalithic sites and explored possible alignments around six or seven decades ago.

    Now I see on English Heritage’s Stonehenge website that they a talking about live streaming the southernmost Moonrise in June. They also state they will “… investigate the alignment of the ancient stones with the moonrise and moonset during this almost once-in a generation event.” with the aid of the RAS etc. Thety continue “Research begins this Spring and observations will continue until mid-2025.” The purpose of this post is draw attention to this effort. I for one will be interested to hear what they learn.

    Back in 1972 Mr Newham published a 32-page booklet ‘The Astronomical Significance of Stonehenge’. It’s a fine intro to the topic. Copies can be picked up on the usual auction websites for around a tenner.

    Dominic Ford

    Thanks – this looks interesting. When I first saw it I was sceptical, but they seem to have put together a very good team.

    I see Clive Ruggles is involved. He’s given some great talks arguing that Hoyle and Thom got a bit overexcited in their speculation, so that’s reassuring that this isn’t going to go the same way!

    David Arditti

    The discussion on this subject by Simon Banton, who I think works for English Heritage on Stonehenge, at the Winchester Weekend, was really interesting as well. A pity it was not recorded. Afterwards I discussed his views with him, comparing his take with that of Prof. Clive Ruggles, who is much more sceptical of some of the claimed predictive purposes of Stonehenge in relation to the movements of the Sun and Moon. Banton takes the view that the builders of these monuments understood quite a lot of astronomy, and has reasonable arguments to back this up.

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