From the Program Chair

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The Sun Dagger Film Introducing Archeoastronomy to the AAAP
The March meeting of the AAAP will be held on the 10th at 7:30 PM in the auditorium of Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. Parking is available across the street from Peyton Hall.

Presentation The originally scheduled speaker Kimberly Kowal Arcand is unfortunately unable to give her talk Visualizing the High Energy Universe, in 2D and 3D. I’ve rescheduled this talk for March 2021. Kimberly is the Visualization Lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has its headquarters at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I think the club will find this talk very interesting, but I am sorry that you’ll have to wait another year to hear it!

As a result, I decided to do something a bit different. We are going to be focusing on archeoastronomy. Archeoastronomy is study of how people in the past have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures. The example we will use is the Sun Dagger in Chaco Canyon, NM. The Sun Dagger is an ancient site (about 1000 year old) that marks certain celestial events. Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans).

The first part. of the presentation features “The Sun Dagger” film (video) narrated by Robert Redford:

Near midday in late June of 1977, while on a field trip to record Indian rock art atop a high butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, artist Anna Sofaer was amazed to see a thin shaft of sunlight slowly streaming across an ancient spiral rock carving, and immediately suspected that she had found something extraordinary. Already a student in the astronomy of ancient cultures, she wondered, “Why does this vertical form of light move downward when the sun is obviously passing horizontally overhead?” To help her analyze this phenomenon, she enlisted the help of specialists in archaeoastronomy, architectural design, geology and anthropology. After months of thorough investigation, the researchers learned that the site precisely marks the seasonal solstices and equinoxes, and the extreme positions of the moon’s nineteen year cycle. They now believe this to be the first ancient calendar found in the New World that marks- at one site- the extreme positions of both the sun and the moon.

Because such knowledge is far beyond what scientists previously believed possible for these early people, Anna re-examines the Anasazi Indian culture that built this remarkable calendar and thrived in the harsh Chaco Canyon environment a thousand years ago. Ultimately, she asks us to recognize our responsibility for preserving the Sun Dagger, and to realize that as we gobble up the coal and uranium that lie beneath their exquisite ruins, the “Ancient Ones” still challenge us to emulate their example of harmonious living on Planet Earth.

In the second part, after viewing the film there will be a Q&A session. Since I have been to Chaco Canyon several times, most recently in 2016, I will answer your questions (hopefully!). To encourage member participation, I’d like to form a small panel to help answer your questions. If you’ve been to Chaco Canyon or to other Anasazi sites and wish to be on the panel please email me at by noon on March 10. This way I will know if there will be a panel to answer questions at the meeting.

10-Minute Member Talk A After the break Robert Vanderbei will give a talk on the recent Mercury Transit. He will show some of the photos he took outside his home. Bob is an accomplished astro-imager. If you’re interested in giving a future 10 minute talk please either email me at or speak with me during an upcoming meeting.

Meet-the-Speaker Dinner There will not be a meet the speaker dinner this month.

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