star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
feb 09, 2015

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
image courtesy of the landlight foundation




in an as-of-yet undisclosed location near chaco park, new mexico, local artist charles ross has been working on his masterpiece since 1976. star axis is an ‘earth/star sculpture’, a naked eye observatory built to encompass over 26,000 years of past and future distilled down into human scale- a journey through star axis is a journey through our planet’s celestial history and future, long after any of us will even be around to experience it.  understanding the meticulous nature of every radius, every angle and every hand-laid step requires an intimate understanding of planetary behavior and our perception of it.  the structure, embedded within a mesa, is a three dimensional compass of space and time that is broken down into its five sequential components: the star tunnel, equatorial chamber, solar pyramid, shadow field, and the hour chamber.

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
front view upon approaching the structure
image © charles ross



star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
view of the star tunnel and solar pyramid from the top of the shadow field’s retaining walls
image © charles ross




the equatorial chamber will be the first structure a visitor will physically interact with upon arrive at star axis. it is an entry threshold that converges with the star tunnel at a perfect right angle. considered a place of rest and orientation before continuing the vertical journey, the equatorial chamber frames all the stars that pass across the equator.

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
standing under the equatorial chamber looking up the star tunnel through the orbital lens at the top
image © charles ross



the star tunnel is the next experience in the progression- it is a stairway precisely aligned with the earth’s axis that points directly at polaris’ location which become visible through an opening in the pyramid at the top of the stairway. at marked steps along the ascent, the field of vision seen through the pyramid at the top displays polaris’ circumpolar orbit at a specific point in the history of the earth. as one climbs the stairs, the greater field of vision accurately outlines polaris’ orbit in our sky from present time into many years into the future.

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
mapping star trails exposes the careful planning and calculation of the structure’s form
image © charles ross




the solar pyramid, almost like a large sundial at the crest of the structure, marks daily and seasonal changes. its shadow works in conjunction with the shadow field- the flat entry area enclosed by two massive curving retaining walls whose radius is directly determined by the path of the shadow established by the solar pyramid during the solstices and equinox. it can be used to measure current time based on the length and path of the shadow.

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
view through the hour chamber- polaris is located at the top-most point of the triangular opening, all other stars will take exactly one hour to pass from the left wall to the right
image © charles ross




inside the solar pyramid, a dark room with a tall triangular opening forms the hour chamber. in this space, polaris appears at the very climax of the triangular opening. any star in the field of vision will take exactly one hour to travel the 15-degree difference between the west edge of the opening to the east, effectively mapping the rotation of the earth in one hour.

star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
equatorial chamber
image © charles ross


star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
image courtesy of the center for land use interpretation



star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
view from atop the solar pyramid
image © charles ross



star axis: the naked eye observatory of charles ross
the site- nestled into a mesa
image © charles ross

  • reminds me of James Turrell’s Roden Crater project in Arizona. Great work.

    JJ says:
  • Amazing. It is nice that someone is thinking on a large scale.

    Ron Smith says:
  • me too JJ

    dbkii says:
  • epic!

    balkan says:
  • Does anyone know where I can get more info on Star Axis? Where exactly is it? Can I ever visit it? When might it be completed?

    Bob Westendarp says:
  • They have a email [email protected] you could try.

    Dan Racz says:
  • An end to the New York City art gallery system that is dependent on collectors that continue to treat art as status and investment.

    Richard Brafford says:
  • I interned for Charles the summer of 1996 on this project. It opened my mind to the limitless possibilities of what we can create with our minds and hands. I am planning a road trip this summer including a trip to Star Axis so I was so excited to read this article. Thanks!

    Jessica J Jirsa says:

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