Stonehenge of the Gobi Desert

A Stonehenge like structure in Xinjiang Province China

After writing my first post on sunrises and moonrises I was pleased to walk from our site in the barren desert to our neighbor site, a plaza with several super sundials, an orrery, and a local “Stonehenge”.

The green of the plaza is due to plastic “grass”. But football is not played on this “astroturf”, instead science exploration is done here.

The “Gobi Stonehenge” is made with a central pillar where a viewer stands and 6 pillars that mark the positions of sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes and the solstices. There are also pillars to mark due north and south. When the sun passes over the south pillar it marks local solar noon.

The shape of an observatory like this one depends upon the latitude, and my caculations show that  the excellent Chinese astronomer who designed this one  did a superb job. 

The local science guides took me around the site, I was the first american tourist to visit this spot. They were wonderful enthusiastic volunteers, well trained in astronomy. I learned later that they were impressed that their very first visitor could do the calculations to confirm the shape of this stonehenge in his head. Of course it helped that I had taught a lesson on this very topic and published it on my web site: Build your own ancient observatory.

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4 Responses to “Stonehenge of the Gobi Desert”

  1. It Is, In Fact » Blog Archive » Nerd Ecstasy: Exploratorium Eclipse Extravaganza Says:
    August 1st, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    [...] government set up a tent city to accommodate them all (as well as what one scientist calls a “Gobi Stonehenge.”). And since this place has had its moment in the sun, so to speak, what [...]

  2. Patsy Burns Says:
    August 1st, 2008 at 5:08 am

    How exciting! I was in Xian in 1998 and am curious if this site was chosen for burial because of an eclipse like this one? The stonehenge and center of Asia markers note Chinese have long been studying the skies. Do you enjoy noticing that the farm fields & ‘forests’ are all planted in a N – S direction? Have you been to the remnants of the Emperor’s observatory just east of Tienanmen Sq by the Gloria Plaza hotel…if it is still there. Supposedly Marco Polo’s star gazing Jesuits matched calculations with the Emperors people there and that knowledge gave Marco Polo guanxi, credibility. Have fun!

  3. David Harvey Says:
    August 1st, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Just finished watching your live feed of the eclipse. Nice job. Couple of things you need to brush up on however – the width of the umbral shadow at your site was 153 miles – not 30 like you repeatedly quoted, and I think you could have done a better job focusing the telescopes after filter removal – a lot of the inital views at the start of totaliy were seriously OOF.

  4. Brenda Kelly Says:
    July 31st, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Hey Paul!
    You always amaze me with how much you know – interesting stuff! I hope you’re having a wonderful time in China. I’m leaving my computer on tonight, and hoping I can get up to watch the eclipse.
    I have a question – when was this “Gobi Stonehenge” built and what have they learned from it?
    Thanks, and enjoy the eclipse!