Möbius + Analemma = Sundial

Somebody likes figure-eights . . . not surprising for a sculpture designed, planned, and executed by the students of Brown STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), an “interdisciplinary cohort of undergraduate students who are passionate about the interplay of art and science.” Maybe there was a figure skater in the group.

The sculpture “Infinite Possibility” is a giant Möbius strip, “a one-sided nonorientable surface obtained by cutting a closed band into a single strip, giving one of the two ends thus produced a half twist, and then reattaching the two ends.” Thank you Mathworld.

But the piece is actually a sundial. Etched on the inside of the sculpture (see below) is an analemma* . . . “a diagram showing the position of the sun in the sky, as seen from a fixed location on the earth at the same mean solar time, as that position varies over the course of a year. The diagram will resemble a figure-eight. Globes of the earth often display an analemma.” (Why is that?)

The sculpture — the result of a design challenge from Brown alum Charlie Giancarlo — sits near the sidewalk in front of Brown’s School of Engineering on Brooks Street. According to the plaque:

At midday each day (and an hour earlier during the winter months), the time of year is illuminated by a ray of sunlight intersecting with the marked analemma. This projection of the sun’s path, determined by the Earth’s tilt, rotation, and orbit, is unique to Brown’s location. The sculpture will tell the time of year for as long as the sun touches it.

Go here to read about the background of the project and its installation. They have an amazing, short, time-lapse video showing the sundial doing its thing over the course of the year! Now I get it.

You can make your own analemma. You’ve got the time.

Next week? Lemniscates.

*Sung to the tune of “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole.

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