Traditions of the Sun: Explore the World's Ancient Observatories NASA
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About this ProjectTraditions of the Sun: Explore the World's Ancient Observatories
spacer It is difficult to understate the importance of the Sun. Its light and warmth provide energy for growing plants, and ultimately makes life itself possible. In our fast-paced modern world, we have become disconnected from the natural world, hence it is easy to take the Sun for granted. In ancient times, however, people understood and honored the Sun’s life-giving power and majesty.

Temple of Sayil spacer
The Sun Temple at Dzibilchaltun marks the equinox when the Sun rises in perfect alignment.
Early agricultural communities watched the Sun and worried about the weather. They marked the coming and passing of the seasons with great interest. They needed to pay attention to the Sun’s movement as planting and harvesting dates might make the difference for that year’s crops. A few poor harvests in a row could threaten the survival of the community. It is not surprising that people from diverse cultures throughout the world, viewed and continue to view the Sun as the source of life.

Today, these concerns have mostly disappeared; but scientists still study the Sun with consuming interest. The Sun after all is a violent, variable and magnetic star that can directly affect us here on Earth. A stream of charged, energetic particles called the “solar wind” constantlyinteracts with our planet’s protective magnetosphere.

Occasionally, immense and powerful solar storms overwhelm the magneto-sphere and disrupt high-tech communications, damage satellites, and cause power blackouts. Hence, as we become more dependent on satellite communications technology, we are more

spacer Sun image from NASA's SOHO spacecraft
Today's image of the Sun from NASA's SOHO spacecraft. See more live images of the sun.
susceptible to effects of the active and dynamic Sun.

Reasons for studying the Sun, however, are not solely limited to its effects on Earth. For astronauts in space, outside of the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, solar storms pose a real danger; these storms release deadly radiation that can serious harm astronauts in space. There is still much we don't understand about the Sun and its effects on Earth. How the Sun affects climate, for example, is not well understood.

Our shared interest in better understanding the mysteries of the Sun, forms a common bond between those who built the great structures of Chaco Canyon and the Yucatan, and people today. We invite you to explore this site, to learn about the ancestral Native Americans in New Mexico and the ancient Maya in the Yucatan, while gaining a better understanding of the active Sun, and its importance to them—and, to us.

Astronaut Mark Lee
NASA Astronaut Mark Lee on an untethered spacewalk outside of the space shuttle.
NASA Space Imaging National Park Service UNAM INAH