Sundials - World's Oldest Clocks

North American Sundial Society

Time by Light of the Moon 2021
By the Light of the Moon
Photo by Dr. Jeff Kretsch

The analemmatic (human) sundial at Turner Farm Observatory Park in Great Falls, VA made by Eagle Scout candidate Kenny Dieffenderfer and Troop 1547 marked a unique place in sundialing history this July 23rd. The Analemma Society sponsors free Friday night public viewing of the heavens through telescopes at Turner Farm's Roll-Top Observatory. But just outside the Observatory on the sidewalk is Kenny's analemmatic dial. Could this dial tell correct time by the light of the moon?

On July 23rd this question was put to the test. It was almost exactly a full moon and the sky was clear. As can be seen in the accompanying photo taken by Dr. Jeff Kretsch at approximately 10:10pm EDT, the lunar shadow of a volunteer human gnomon cast a shadow of about 9:10pm standard moon civil time. How did this come about?

The important facts needed to make the analemmatic dial tell the correct "moon time" is knowing both the phase of the moon and the declination of the moon. On that night the moon was very close to being exactly a full moon and the declination of the moon was 25 degrees south of the equator. The maximum that the sun ever gets is 23.45 degrees south of the equator at the winter solstice. That means that (with practical precision) even though it was a late July night, the human gnomon must stand on the dial's zodiac walkway at the Dec-Jan winter solstice mark. 

If this were the sun, we apply a  plus 8 minute correction for the 77 deg west longitude of the observatory. The moon gets the same treatment. But what about the moon's phase and the "equation of time"? Here we find a fortunate coincidence: The moon was full moon at 10:37pm EDT on that Friday night, so by luck the moon was almost exactly opposite the sun. The moon's average full moon to full moon (a synodic month) is 29.53 days. Thus the average moon's lead or lag of a mythical full moon is about 49 minutes per day. Therefore the lunar phase correction is approximately 49 x 20/1440 = 0.68 minutes (41 seconds) ahead of the average full moon. Finally the sun's EOT for Friday July 23rd is approximately 6min 30 sec to be added to a dial's shadow to get civil time. But the moon opposite the sun has EOT in the opposite direction of minus 6min 30 sec. The net lunar correction is therefore +8.0 -.68 -6.5 = 50 sec, just less than one minute that needs to be added to that night's observation analemmatic shadow. One might say that the moon and sun were in perfect alignment!

 

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