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NASA PUNCH Outreach and the Eclipse Petroglyph Site in Chaco Canyon

Presentation #105.02 in the session Daytime and Dark Sky Heritage in American Southwestern Archaeoastronomy.

Published onJul 01, 2023
NASA PUNCH Outreach and the Eclipse Petroglyph Site in Chaco Canyon

The outreach program embedded in the NASA PUNCH mission is enacting the theme of Ancient & Modern Sun-watching to broaden the cultural and personal relevance of NASA heliophysics among youth & families in the US Southwest and beyond. This theme allows our collaborative of science centers, planetariums, and cultural partners in the 4-Corners region (CO, NM, UT, AZ) to portray NASA’s exploration of the Sun as a natural extension of humanity’s long-lived dedication to observing the Sun’s rhythms and mysteries.

The “ancient” dimension of our theme is focused on Chaco Canyon - a World Heritage site in remote, northwestern New Mexico. Chaco is renowned for its 1000-year-old monumental buildings whose alignments exhibit the Ancestral Puebloan’s masterful understanding of the cyclical motions of Sun and Moon. Chaco has other evidence for ancient Sun-watching techniques that are still practiced in the modern Puebloan diaspora of the US Southwest.

PUNCH Outreach has made culturally respectful photo-documentation of a particular Chaco Sun-watching place that we call the “eclipse” petroglyph site. This moniker derives from an unusual rock carving - a 10-cm pecked disk with curlicue grooves emanating in all directions. Solar astronomer Kim Malville has offered evidence for interpreting this petroglyph as a possible representation of the 11 July 1097 total solar eclipse, which occurred during a time of both high solar activity and high human activity in the Canyon.

We explain our work in Chaco and how it supports several PUNCH Outreach products while also advancing knowledge of the “eclipse” petroglyph site (known in the research literature as Piedra del Sol). Our assets include photogrammetry and time-lapse photography of sunrises, sunsets, and associated shadow play on a spiral petroglyph at times of cultural significance.

PUNCH Outreach shares the interconnections among 1) the “eclipse and stormy corona” interpretation of the petroglyph; 2) the milestones of NASA missions like PUNCH and Parker Solar Probe designed to observe the Sun’s corona; and 3) the opportunity for contemporary people to observe the corona during the 2024 total solar eclipse - also during a period of solar maximum.

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