Burcham-Henge – the bi-annual phenomenon by which the sun lines up perfectly with Burcham Drive between Abbot and Hagadorn roads – could be visible this evening and tomorrow morning, based on current weather forecasts.
Sunset today (Monday, March 20) will occur at about 7:17 p.m. Sunrise tomorrow morning (Tuesday, March 21) will be at about 7:07 a.m. Those are the times the sun will line up with Burcham Drive, because the earth has reached the spring equinox.
While ELi doesn’t recommend you spend a lot of time standing in the middle of a busy road at rush hour, readers have told us over the years they enjoy this annual astronomical phenomenon.
The history of Burcham-Henge starts with the formation of the earth, if you go back that far. Here at ELi, we pay more attention to the local history. Here’s what we know:
When Burcham Drive was originally laid out over 150 years ago, it was engineered to fall almost perfectly along a west-east axis.
ELi asked Director of Public Works Scott House about it in 2017, and he said he could not figure out why that road was so perfectly laid out. But, as he researched existing maps, he was able to confirm that the road in that configuration goes back to at least 1874.
Have a look at the maps he provided. (The orange arrows point to Burcham Drive.)
The consequence of this is that the sun rises at the east end of the road and sets at the west end of the road on the spring and fall equinoxes.
Former ELi astronomy reporter Aron Sousa discovered the phenomenon as he was driving between his home in the Oakwood Historic Neighborhood (near the Hannah Community Center) and his office in Fee Hall, where he is now the dean of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. (This explains why he no longer has time to be ELi’s volunteer astronomy reporter.)
Sousa noticed the sun was particularly blinding if he drove to work at sunrise or home at sunset on the celestial equinoxes.
A fan of Stonehenge, an ancient monument set up by humans to observe astronomical cycles, Sousa named the local phenomenon “Burcham-Henge,” and the name has stuck.
“Burcham-Henge is a connection to people on this and other continents spanning thousands of years,” Sousa told ELi earlier today, speaking of people “who tracked the year via the position of the sun.”
“That connection to people long ago is comforting to me,” he said.
Asked if he was saying that he appreciates that Burcham-Henge evokes ritual and so becomes ritual, Sousa replied, “Kinda. Although I imagine a grown-up sitting with a teenager or kid waiting for the sun to come up and marking the sun’s position with a stick or a stone. It’s the transfer of knowledge that I harken back to more than some formal ritual.”
The forecast from the National Weather Service calls for a 61% chance of cloud cover at sunset tonight and a 59% chance of cloud cover at sunrise tomorrow. Tomorrow evening also presents a shot at seeing Burcham-Henge when the sun sets at about 7:19 p.m.
Disclosure: ELi reporter Alice Dreger is married to Aron Sousa.