There are many ways to welcome the winter solstice, and the Southworth Planetarium is planning a trio of celebratory events — involving history, science and writing — to recognize the gradual return of longer days.

On the historical front, a virtual tour of Stonehenge, one of the most famous ancient structures, will take place at 7 p.m. Monday. The evening’s tour guide is Patrick Peoples, a planetarium volunteer and lab instructor at the University of Southern Maine, who grew up near the ruins.

“Some people believe it was an astronomical observatory, others a ritualistic center. I think it was a combination of both,” Peoples said. “I grew up near Stonehenge. As a teen I used to ride my bike there.”

The idea for this program arose a few years ago. Peoples first gave a presentation combining images and a depiction of the night sky at the time Stonehenge was built to a local astronomy group. Last year, he brought the program to the public through the planetarium’s summer solstice celebration.

“The reaction of people (attending this program) is amazing,” Peoples said. “Parents bring their kids to enjoy the show. A lot of grandparents come, too, and they seem to be the ones asking all the questions. It’s a good mix of people in the audience.”

On the scientific front, this year’s winter solstice is particularly noteworthy as it happens on the same day as a lunar eclipse.

For the eclipse, the planetarium will re-open its doors a few hours after the Stonehenge event for a special telescope viewing of the moon.

The planetarium doors will open at 12:45 a.m., just after the moon enters penumbra. In layman’s terms, that is the official start of the lunar eclipse.

“When you can actually see the eclipse happening is at 1:32 a.m., when the moon enters umbra,” explained Edward Gleason, the planetarium’s manager.

The umbra phase is when observers can see the curved dark shadow slowly moving across the moon’s face.

Members of the Greater Portland Astronomical Society and the Southern Maine Astronomers, both cosponsors of the program, as well as planetarium staff members will be on hand to answer questions until the facility closes at 4 a.m.

The viewing program is free and open to all.

“We are closing when totality (when the moon is fully eclipsed by the earth) ends at 3:53 a.m.,” Gleason said. Although observers will see the moon in the earth’s shadow until 5:01 a.m., Gleason believes most attendees will be ready to leave by 4 a.m.

“We’re anticipating people’s bedtime after totality,” he said.

On the creative writing front, there will be an evening of celestial poetry with the “Solstice Dawning” event at 7 p.m. tonight at Southworth.

Local writers will recite their poetry about the cosmos and nature under the theme of the evening, “Light and Dark.” Admission is by donation.

“What excites us most is that we are able to approach this season from many angles,” Gleason said. “From poetry to a scientific event to a historic program, we utilize our facility so there is something here for everybody at this time of year. It’s a confluence of all these events happening around us. We’re delighted to be part of it.”

Staff Writer Wendy Almeida can be contacted at 791-6334 or at:

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