The Sphinx on the Giza Plateau outside Cairo witnessed the astronomical equinox in March when the sun sets behind the animal’s right shoulder. The phenomenon can be observed twice a year for four days during the spring in March and the autumn in September.
Archaeologist Zahi Hawass said that the Earth’s axis does not point towards or away from the sun during the equinox, which means that the northern and southern hemispheres receive equal amounts of sunlight and makes the day and the night equal in length.
In summer, there is another phenomenon called the solstice when the sun can be observed setting between the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre. The solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most northerly or southerly position when seen from Earth, with two solstices occurring annually on 21 June and 21 December.
“The Sphinx’s position during the equinoxes and summer solstices proves that archaeologists were wrong when they said that the ancient Egyptians had placed it there by accident because of the positioning of a stony outcrop,” Hawass said, adding that the astronomical phenomena showed that the Sphinx had been carefully positioned.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly