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June 23, 2011

Solar Spectrums and the Summer Solstice

Tuesday June 21, 2011 marked the official start to summer, the Google doodle told us so. Although its been feeling a lot like summer for the last few weeks here in DC, the Summer Solstice officially commenced at 1:16 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Here at the NMAI we have our own way of marking the changing of the seasons, Charles Ross’ Prism/Solar Spectrum installation in the south-facing window of the Potomac. Eight large prisms sit inside a tall rectangular window and project solar spectrum into the space year round but during the Summer Solstice these bands of light transform into a dazzling array of color.

  Summer Solstice 2011 068 

The spectrums of light began as pastel renderings giving us a preview of what the final work of art would be.  As patrons of the museum gathered in anticipation of the spectacle, the colors banding across the Potomac Atrium grew stronger and more vibrant with each passing minute until they reached their peak at 1:16. Positioned on the fourth level in the hopes of taking in the full effect of the prisms, I looked down at the people as they played in the rainbow of colors that washed over them. One little girl caught my attention as she skipped back and forth through the prismatic playground. She paused briefly to have her photo taken and then continued in her game. A gentleman posed in a second rectangle of color for a photo op, bathed from head to toe from red to violet. The Potomac Atrium was filled with people enjoying this very special moment in the summer season. Luckily the way the prisms work we will be able to enjoy these light patterns for the two weeks following the Solstice.

Mitsitam Summer Menu and Summer Solstice 2011 075

Our sister museum the George Gustav Heye Center in New York will be hosting its own special event harkening in the Summer Solstice this week as well, The Inti Raymi! Festival of the Sun. Celebrating the Indigenous people of the Andes and the winter solstice, which is the summer solstice in North America, Inti Raymi is the time to acknowledge Inti (sun) an the gifts of life.  So if you are in New York on June 24 be sure to stop by the museum and celebrate the official start to summer!

                                                          - Brieahn DeMeo (Osage), Public Affairs Intern



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The event looks very enjoyable and even have something to learn.

Gotta love these kind of ways to make people think about science. I can just imagine that girl playing with the spectrums and later thinking about it and asking her dad or mom in the car how it works. Maybe mom and dad won't have an answer but she will find out in the end. Very cool thanks for this.

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