Stonehenge: Rare lunar event may help us understand monument's links to the Moon

English Heritage is working with experts to discover ancient secrets (Toby Melville / Reuters)
English Heritage is working with experts to discover ancient secrets (Toby Melville / Reuters)

The rising and setting of the sun at Stonehenge, especially during the summer and winter solstices, continues to evoke joy, fascination, and religious devotion.

A project has been launched to delve into the links that may exist between the ancient monument and a "major lunar standstill", which happens every 18.6 years.

This is when the moonrise and moonset reach their farthest points apart along the horizon – and will take place in January 2025.

English Heritage is working with experts from the universities of Oxford, Leicester, and Bournemouth, as well as the Royal Astronomical Society.

The project will give archaeologists, astronomers, and archaeoastronomers a rare chance to explore theories surrounding the event and the ancient people of Stonehenge.

Some experts believe the monument was built by people who were aware of the major lunar standstill and perhaps buried their dead in a particular part of the site because of its relationship to the phenomenon.

It is also possible that four “station stones” forming a rectangle at the site – two of which are still standing – were intentionally positioned to mark the major lunar standstill.

"So we could be talking about a generational event that people might have come to Wiltshire for," said Dr Fabio Silva, from Bournemouth University.

"We'll never be able to prove this, but the greater understanding we can get of these monuments and the Moon, the stronger the argument will be.

"It's rising further to the north than it has done and, a fortnight later, it rises further to the south and we believe places like Stonehenge might have aligned to the Moon when it's doing this," Dr Silva continued.

"It will add a much more diverse nuance to the answers we already have."

English Heritage is holding a series of events, including talks, a pop-up planetarium, stargazing and a new display in the exhibition space for the public to get involved.