Perkins' New Sunquest Sundial
Bringing Together the Historic and the Modern
In 1925 Perkins Observatory was one year old (see the History of Perkins). As a gift to Ohio Wesleyan University, the graduating class of 1925 raised money to present a sundial to the observatory. The sundial itself was made of bronze and sat atop a stone pedestal carved to represent the Mayan or Aztec sun god.
Sadly, the sundial was stolen sometime around 1944. Since that time, the empty pedestal has sat on the grounds of the observatory, lonely and unloved. But in 1998, it was decided that it was time to do something about it. With the observatory's 75th anniversary just one year away, we undertook a project to replace the sundial.
Unfortunately, no good photographs or drawings of the original sundial appear to exist. The only clue available was an old, grainy newspaper photo of the outside of the observatory with the sundial visible. In this picture, the sundial itself only took up a couple of pixels - not enough to determine what it looked like, only that it was round and about basketball size.
Undaunted, we decided that if we couldn't replace the sundial with an accurate replica, we could at least replace it with an accurate sundial. Thus began a long search of the internet.
The problem with sundials is that they very rarely will tell you the same time as your watch. This is because local solar time (or sundial time) varies throughout the year by as much as several minutes. The Earth's orbit is not a perfect circle, and at times it moves faster or slower around the Sun, causing variations in the length of the day. Couple this with the tilt of the Earth's axis, time zones, and Daylight Savings Time, and you have a real mess. It's fine to use sundial time if you live in a simple, agrarian society, but to a modern, industrial culture with computers, cars, and television, it just won't do. The time we keep on our watches is called "Mean Time." The 24-hour-day we use is just the average length of the day throughout the year. This works very nicely. However, problems creep in when you try to compare mean time with sundial time. Usually, they don't agree with each other.
Finally, it was discovered that back in the 1950's a sundial was designed and produced which could be adjusted to correct for the differences between sundial time and mean time. We were able to track down the eldest daughter of its late creator and obtain for Perkins Observatory one of the last two surviving "Sunquest" sundial kits. It took about 50 hours to assemble and polish the pieces. Fortunately, the observatory had a spot on the front lawn recently marked by Delaware County surveyors with very accurate readings of longitude, latitude, and elevation. The pedestal was moved to that spot, the sundial installed, then the party!
In March of 2002, the sundial was stolen again! News quickly spread (with the help of our friends in the local media). The sundial was found days later in a ditch near by damaged, but repairable. Unfortunately the culprits were never identified. The repairs are now being completed on it.
In January of 2005 a new Sunquest type sundial was donated to us. Better and made of sturdier stuff, we hope it will last for generations to come.
The "Sunquest" sundial was the work of the late Richard L. Schmoyer of Landisville, Pennsylvania. Schmoyer was a perfectionist who wanted his sundial to keep perfect time. He succeeded. The gnomon (the part in the center that casts a shadow) is shaped like the "equation of time." This equation simply tells you how far ahead or behind local time the Sun happens to be on any given day. This means that when it's properly adjusted for time zone, elevation, Daylight Savings Time, etc., the Sunquest will give the time within one minute. This is amazing accuracy for a sundial!
Adjustments to correct from sun time to mean time.
Images by: Gary McCool
NOTE: We want to be aware of any other Sunquest sundials in use today. If you have one, or know of one, we would LOVE to hear from you! Send us e-mail or call us at (740) 363-1257!
Interesting Sites reported so far:
Lindisfarne Sundials of Bedlington, Northumberland, England has made a few bronze reproductions.
Precision Sundials LLC of Burlington, VT.