A lovely letter to the New Yorker in this week's issue--I at first thought it was going to be nit-picky, and then that attention to detail pays off gloriously (I wish I had a picture of the cover to include in this entry):
To the editor:
Mark Ulriksen's "Winter Pleasures," an impressionistic rendering of Grand Central Terminal's main concourse, depicts the famous golden clock bathed in sunlight (Cover, January 28th). Note that this can be only an eastward morning scene, not a westward afternoon. The angle of the long axis of the concourse, following that of Manhattan's east-west streets, is not 90 [degrees] but 119 [degrees] east of north, and aligns with the sun through its "west" windows only from late May to early July, and then only at an elevation of less than 3 [degrees]. But aren't those the south-side ticket windows at the left of the picture, with the tracks and trains therefore on the right? And doesn't the clock seem to read three-fifty, hardly a time for the morning sun? I take the picture to be deliberately reversed, so that the clock reads a (backward) eight-ten, precisely the time of the sun's direct morning illumination of Grand Central's east windows on (or about) February 19th. As all Grand Central lovers know, the great mural of stars painted on the Terminal's ceiling is oddly arranged, with an east-to-west reversal of the zodiac, with Taurus charging Orion from left to right. (It is still a matter of debate whether the mural is a mistaken execution of a printed floor plan or the adapted design of an Old World star map, rendered according to the medieval custom of an external projection of a celestial globe. Now, in Ulriksen's alternate-universe of a cosmos-within-a-cosmos, the constellations will be set back as we see them in the starry night sky.
Michael Allison, adjunct professor of astronomy at Columbia and emeritus scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies