Kazuo Matsubayashi's Asteroid Landed Softly Sundial

Gallivan Center Plaza, 50 East, 200 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111, Latitude N40° 45' 52.37" (+40.76455) , Longitude W111° 53'23.32" (-111.88981) Rev. 2/2/2007
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Asteroid Landed Softly
Time - modern

Prepared by and report errors or broken links to: K. Fisher 6/2006 fisherka@csolutions.net.

This author is not associated with Prof. Matsubayashi or the Gallivan Center. No copyright is asserted to any original material generated in this website. All original content in this website is released to the public domain. Astronomy clubs, educators and libraries are encouraged to make a local copy of and to replicate this site. Click to download a copy of this site as a single compressed file. (~10 Mbytes).

Go to: Table for dial to watch time | Best times to visit | How to get there | Parking | Simple science activities after you get there | Teacher-parent resources | Resources and Bibliography | Meditation breaks | Handy tables | Find a sun party at a local astronomy club | Sundials across North America

For me, space and time are the two most important things in architecture. In this case, time is an interesting issue. We are always running around-we don't have time to stop and think. You can look at the sundial and watch the shaft of light moving, making its way across the dial, and think about what time means. A woman with terminal cancer came up to me once and said it meant a lot to her to look at it and contemplate the reality of time in our brief life spans.

- Kazuo Matsubayashi, quoted July 11, 2002 in the Salt Lake City Weekly.

The leisure-society of post-industrial America is a time-deprived culture. Artist-architect Kazuo Matsubayashi's sundial-sculpture, Asteroid Landed Softly, creates a small refuge - in the middle of a busy urban commercial setting - where citizens and visitors can recenter themselves by reconnecting to a pace of time set by nature and not society. Matsubayashi's sundial celebrates the tempo of time that the seasons impose on our lives.

Symbolism in the dial harmonizes eastern and western ideas about time and celebrates the multi-cultural diversity of Utah. As a whole, the sundial represents man looking out across an infinite cycle of time underneath the endless dome of the celestial sphere. But with the aid of the dial plate, man remains the measure of all things.

The central gnomon stands on an eastern ying-yang symbol. The darker portion of the ying-yang symbol represents night; the lighter portion day. Together, the two-halves of the ying-yang symbol represents the flow of time between those two opposing forces of nature. The ying-yang symbol is surrounded by an outer ring of western Greco-Roman zodiac symbols that represent the Sun's annual cycle. With a precision allowed by modern mastery of engineering and astrometry, two rows of posts are exactly framed by the Sun's light piercing through the gnomon only on the summer and winter solstices. The two rows of posts announce the major turning points within the Sun's annual cycle inside this force of nature. At the instant of solstice, the top of the light gnomon reaches one end of the triangular pedestals. The band of zodiac symbols on the outer ring is rotated so that as the summer solstice begins, the gnomon's shadow enters the constellation Cancer - just as it did 2,100 years ago when classical Greek civilization developed the planetary theory on which the sundial is based.

Matsubayashi's design is rare among United State's sundials. It is one of the few U.S. sundials that uses a light gnomon - as opposed to the traditional shadow gnomon - to indicate solar or seasonal hours.

By choosing to use a light gnomon and capping the gnomon post with a slab of red rock from Utah's southwest Native American Nation lands, Matsubayashi pays homage to the ancient Anazai "sundagger" sundials like the Utah Sundagger at Holly House in Hovenweep National Monument, the proposed Parowan Gap archeo-sundial near Parowan, Utah, and the Fajada Butte Sundagger at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

To this, Matsubayashi adds his own Japanese heritage by forming the modern post of the gnomon in a style of his ancestral homeland. The gnomon is an inverted "y" shape topped by a box that evokes the ancient Chinese character for "man" or "person".

In elements of one public sculpture, Asteroid Landed Softly represents the many cultural peoples of Utah - the Native American first peoples, Greek mining immigrants and Chinese railroad laborers of the 1800s, Japanese-Americans interned in Utah during the 1940s, and the dominant modern post-industrial society.

Asteroid Landed Softly primarily concerns the cycle of deep time. From the perspective of a single human lifespan, time has an arrow pointing from the past to the present. Matsubayashi's choice of materials ties the past of time's arrow and Utah's ancient inhabitants to its present custodians. The southwestern Utah red-rock slab represents the past, but securely connects to the top of a modern architectural structural element, evocative of part of a modern skyscraper, that is firmly rooted in the present of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In an era of digital watches, how sundials tell time has been lost from everyday knowledge. This website explains how the gnomon and dial plate of the Matsubayashi-Gallivan Center sundial tells solar or seasonal time - and discusses the dial's less apparent sundial's less apparent features.

Dial visitors who approach Asteroid Landed Softly as busy post-moderns examining a timekeeping device, the accuracy and utility of which is to be measured against their modern electronic watches, will come away disappointed. The Asteroid Landed Softly sundial tells seasonal time of unequal hours and not the uniform standard time shown by your watch. A more appropriate frame of mind to approach the dial with is that of an ancient Anazai, who seeks a natural rock outcrop or lighting effect in order to mark the major seasons. Another metaphor to approach the dial with is that of an ancient Greek around 500 B.C.E., who wants to use the dial as a giant astronomical instrument for measuring the position and movement of the Sun, the Moon and stars across the sky.

Major features of the Matsubayashi-Gallivan sundial that announce natural cycles of time include:

Because time obsession is a part of our modern "24/7" culture, a handy table that converts time told by the posts on the inner and outer ring of the sundial into standard (watch) time is provided. Conversely, The handy table can used to decide when to visit the dial and watch the Sun reach the noon mark or cross a particular post. (Downtown office workers may want to utilitize their breaks accordingly.)

A common misperception about the sundial is that it tells time in 20 minute increments. More accurately, the dial tells time about 20 minute increments on the summer solstice and during some winter months, parts of the outer ring posts count increments of 15 minutes of standard time. See the far right-hand column in the handy table by month and day. On the summer solstice, the Sun crosses the six spaces between the seven posts of the inner line or ring of posts in approximately 20 minute increments. From the middle of November through the end of January - and on the winter solstice - the posts containing prisms on the outer ring tell approximately 1 hour of standard time (with variations of zero to five minutes). The east and west piers of posts on the outer ring are divided into quarter parts - or 15 minutes of time. Other hours on the outer ring are subdivided into thirds (20 minutes) and halves (30 minutes) of time. At other times of the year, the seasonal or solar hour is not the same length as a standard (watch) hour of time. Subdivisions of those seasonal hours do not match increments of 15, 20 or 30 minutes of standard time.

As moderns, we tend to view our present - made hurried by the introduction of new technology - as unique in human history. When the Greeks introduced the early form of sundial used in Asteroid Landed Softly (the vertical gnomon and the local horizon divided into 12 equiangular parts) to the Romans, Roman culture had a new technological means to measure time other than what to them were the more natural divisions of the noon mark, sunrise and sunset. Feeling - what we in modern times would call - "stressed out" by the faster past of life that this new technological innovation created, Roman playwright Plautus (200 B.C.E.) condemned that "wretch who first . . . set up a sundial in the market place to chop my day to pieces."

Sun dial enthusiasts will recognize Asteroid Landed Softly as a vertical post gnomon where the hour lines on the horizontal dial plate are marked out in twelve regular parts. This is the style of dial used by the ancient Greeks prior to 100 C.E. It tells unequal seasonal hours.

This older sundial form used in Asteroid Landed Softly pre-dates the modern form of a horizontal sundial that appeared around 100 C.E. The modern form of the horizontal sundial consists of a slanted triangular shaped gnomon and a horizontal dial plate laid out in unequal angles between the hour lines. Through the technological improvement of the slanted gnomon that points at the Polaris, the North Pole star, the modern form of sundial approximately tells local apparent time in 24 hour equinocturnal increments. This is the form of sundial that most people visualize when prompted with the word "sundial." An example of the modern form of slanted triangular gnomon sundial with the dial plate laid out in unequal angles can be seen in an aerial view of the Perless Sundagger Sundial at the Utah Valley State College campus in Heber, Utah.

The older sundial form based on a simple vertical post illustrated by the Asteroid Landed Softly was used by the ancient Greeks to divide the globe of the Earth into major geographical and climate zones. Sun dials located north of the Tropic or "line" of Cancer at 23 1/2° North latitude - like the Matsubayashi-Gallivan sundial - always cast noon shadow marks north of the gnomon. The noon mark shadow falls north or south of the gnomon when the sundial is located in the equatorial belt between the "line of Cancer" and the "line" or Tropic of Capricorn, depending on the season. Dials located south of the "line" or Tropic of Capricorn at 23 1/2° south latitude always cast noon shadow marks south of the gnomon. Based on the way the noon mark shadow moves with respect to gnomons placed at various geographic positions of latitude, the ancient Greeks divided the Earth into major bands of latitude - the temperate, the equatorial, and later the arctic zones. Today, we still use those names for the Earth's major geographic and climate zones.

This website also contains information useful to Utah parents and school teachers who would like to use the Matsubayashi-Gallivan Center sundial as a teaching resource for Earth sciences (Earth-Sun relationships) and mathematics.

The Gallivan Center is an urban plaza and park that is owned by the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, Utah and that is operated by the Salt Lake City Department of Public Services. The Center hosts numerous public concerts targeting office workers at the noon hour and a mixture of family and adult rock entertainment on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. See the Gallivan concert schedule for dates, times and performers. The Matsubayashi sundial occasionally can be seen between 11:00am and 2:00 pm local time, highlighted by the Sun, in the background of the Gallivan Center web cameras.

Initial visitors to the dial sometimes remark that they are afraid the cap sandstone rock will fall off the gnomon or that the dial will present a hazard in an earthquake. The sandstone cap rock has a large hole drilled through it and is securely anchored the gnomon with structural steel. The structural steel of the 2 1/2 story tall gnomon itself continues down through the plaza floor and three levels of underground parking, encased in a special concrete pier. The concrete anchor is easily seen by walking down to the parking stairs at the north side of the plaza to parking level 2.

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