The Zenith of the Sun at Angkor Wat

The term zenith sometimes means the highest point, way, or level reached by a celestial body on its daily apparent path around a given point of observation.

The Zenith of the Sun is a term used in astronomy to refer to the highest point that the sun reaches in the sky during the day. This occurs when the sun is directly overhead, or at the highest point in its daily arc across the sky.

Once or twice each year, people who live at lower latitudes (within 23.5 degrees of the equator) can see the sun reach the zenith, an imaginary point directly overhead. (If you poked a pencil straight into the ground when the sun was at its zenith, it would make no shadow at all.) The path the sun takes on these days—from sunrise through the zenith, to sunset—is called the zenith passage. Right at the equator, the zenith passage coincides with the equinoxes.

Zenith Facts

In places near the equator, the zenith of the sun can occur twice a year during the equinoxes, when the sun is directly above the equator. In other locations, the zenith of the sun occurs only once a year, typically during the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. During these times, the sun appears to move in a circular path across the sky, with its highest point occurring at the zenith.

The word “zenith” derives from an inaccurate reading of the Arabic expression سمت الرأس (samt al-ras), meaning “direction of the head” or “path above the head”, by Medieval Latin scribes in the Middle Ages (during the 14th century), possibly through Old Spanish.

The term zenith sometimes means the highest point, way, or level reached by a celestial body on its daily apparent path around a given point of observation. The solar zenith angle is the angle between the sun and a line that goes straight up from the ground. 

The zenith of the sun is an important concept in many cultures and religions and has been used to mark the passage of time and the changing of seasons for thousands of years. In ancient civilizations such as the Maya and the Inca, the zenith of the sun was used to mark important festivals and ceremonies and to determine the planting and harvesting seasons.

Angkor Wat is a temple complex located in the northern region of Cambodia, near the city of Siem Reap. It is one of the largest and most famous archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site[1]. The complex covers an area of more than 400 acres and contains numerous temples, shrines, and other structures that were built during the Khmer Empire[2], which ruled the region from the 9th to the 15th century.

The centerpiece of Angkor Wat is the eponymous temple, which is one of the largest religious structures in the world. The temple was built in the 12th century by the Khmer king Suryavarman II[3] and is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu[4]. The temple complex is surrounded by a large moat and features a series of courtyards, galleries, and towers that are decorated with intricate carvings and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and Khmer history.

The zenith passage at Angkor Wat occurs twice a year, around March 20 and September 22, during the equinoxes. During these times, the sun is directly above the equator and appears to move in a straight line across the sky, rather than in an arc. This alignment creates a dramatic effect at Angkor Wat, where the temple’s corridors and walkways are oriented to align with the sun’s path during the zenith passage.

The zenith passage at Angkor Wat is believed to have had important spiritual significance to the people who built the temple complex. Some scholars have suggested that the event may have been associated with the Hindu god Vishnu, who is depicted as lying on a serpent with his head pointed towards the zenith.

Others have speculated that the event may have been associated with the Khmer king who commissioned the construction of Angkor Wat, and who may have used the temple as a symbol of his power and connection to the gods. The zenith passage at Angkor Wat is a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world to witness the unique astronomical event.

However, the event is also fragile, and its continued occurrence is threatened by factors such as climate change and the impacts of tourism. As such, efforts are underway to protect and preserve the temple complex and its important cultural heritage. Today, the zenith of the sun is still important in many cultures and is used to mark the start of summer and winter, as well as the changing of the seasons. It is also important in astronomy and geography and is used to determine the latitude of a location on Earth.

  1. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a title given to cultural, natural, or mixed sites around the world that are considered to be of outstanding universal value to humanity. These sites are designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and are recognized as important places that should be protected for future generations. To be listed as a World Heritage Site, a site must meet certain criteria, such as having exceptional cultural or natural significance, representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, exhibiting an important interchange of human values, or being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates significant stages in human history. There are currently over 1,100 World Heritage Sites around the world, located in more than 160 countries. These sites include landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, among many others. The designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site brings prestige and international recognition to a site, and often attracts tourism and funding for preservation and conservation efforts. [Back]
  2. The Khmer Empire was a powerful state in Southeast Asia that existed from the 9th to the 15th centuries. It was centered in what is now modern-day Cambodia and was known for its impressive architecture, art, and engineering achievements. The empire was founded by Jayavarman II in 802 CE and was ruled by a series of kings who expanded the empire’s territory and power over the centuries. The Khmer Empire reached its peak under the rule of King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century, who oversaw the construction of many of the empire’s most iconic buildings, including the Angkor Wat temple complex. [Back]
  3. Suryavarman II was a king of the Khmer Empire who ruled from 1113 to 1150 CE. He is known for his military conquests, architectural achievements, and for commissioning the construction of the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex. Suryavarman II was the successor to his uncle, Dharanindravarman II, who had been defeated by the Champa Kingdom in a war. After ascending to the throne, Suryavarman II embarked on a series of military campaigns to expand the Khmer Empire’s territory and power. He defeated the Champa Kingdom and invaded Dai Viet (Vietnam) to the east. [Back]
  4. Vishnu is one of the major deities in Hinduism and is considered to be the preserver and protector of the universe. He is often depicted with blue skin and four arms, holding various symbolic objects such as a conch shell, a discus, a mace, and a lotus flower. According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu is believed to have incarnated on Earth multiple times to restore order and balance to the universe. These incarnations are known as avatars, and the most popular among them are Rama and Krishna. Vishnu is often portrayed as the loving and caring deity who intervenes in the lives of his devotees to protect them from evil and guide them towards righteousness. He is also associated with qualities such as compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. [Back]

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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