AUBURN — Bundled up against the cold in jackets and hats, 60 first- and fourth-graders stood on lines painted on a parking lot outside the Auburn Land Lab Monday.

The lines are part of a horizontal sundial, the largest in Maine.

Hours before the snow fell, science teacher Jim Chandler walked to different lines of the sundial.

“I’m now at September.” The sun is getting lower in the sky, he said. “Over here is October. The sun is getting lower. In November it’s really getting lower fast, until I get to the winter solstice.”

The word solstice means stop, Chandler explained. “The sun gets so low it gets to a point it stops.”

That point has arrived. The winter solstice and the first official day of winter arrive today, marking the longest night and shortest day in the northern hemisphere. Now the days will slowly grow longer.

Inside a classroom, Chandler told students that as the sun sets each day it looks like the sun is moving across the sky.

“But is it the sun moving, or the Earth moving?” he asked.

“The Earth,” students answered.

Chandler nodded. He picked up a globe. He illustrated how in the winter the Earth is tipped away from the sun making the sun appear low in the sky at noon.

Chandler, director of the land lab and the consulting teacher in science for Auburn schools, created the horizontal sundial with the help of the Auburn Public Works Department.

He registered it with the North American Sundial Society. It uses an existing 26-foot tall light pole and painted lines on the parking lot. The light pole provides the shadows. The lines illustrate where the shadows fall at different seasons.

“I built it so students could more graphically see the movement of the sun across the sky and understand the change of the seasons,” Chandler said. “It’s fun to use the sundial to teach the winter solstice.”

He welcomed the arrival of winter, in a way.

He appreciated having the winter sky to be able to demonstrate the sundial and the winter shadows. “I laid it all out mathematically. It was nice to confirm it with the sun.”

As far as the day-to-day arrival of winter, “it has it’s pluses and minuses. … I’m glad it doesn’t last all year.”

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