Maya Astronomy

The Maya were quite accomplished astronomers. Their primary interest, in contrast to "western" astronomers, were Zenial Passages when the Sun crossed over the Maya latitudes. On an annual basis the sun travels to its summer solstice point, or the latitude of 23-1/3 degrees north.

Most of the Maya cities were located south of this latitude, meaning that they could observe the sun directly overhead during the time that the sun was passing over their latitude. This happened twice a year, evenly spaced around the day of solstice.

The Maya could easily determine these dates, because at local noon, they cast no shadow. Zenial passage observations are possible only in the Tropics and were quite unknown to the Spanish conquistadors who descended upon the Yucatan peninsula in the 16th century. The Maya had a god to represented this position of the Sun called the Diving God.


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Updated: July 22 2005