September 13, 2005

An interesting coincidence?

There is a memorial being planned for the site of the 9/11 Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania. The structure is drawing some criticism as the overall shape and color is that of the Islamic Red Crescent:
Flight 93 Memorial

Flags of some Islamic Nations
Now it seems that the opening of the Crescent is aligned directly towards Mecca. Wretchard has more to say at The Belmont Club:
The Flight 93 Memorial
The design of the Flight 93 memorial is being criticized for resembling a Red Islamic Crescent. Michelle Malkin, Real Clear Politics and Little Green Footballs point out the uncanny similarity. One poster at the FreeRepublic claimed that the "Crescent of Embrace", the principal visual feature consisting of a semicircle of red maple trees enfolding a central space, was oriented toward Mecca.
According to this site, the latitude/longitude coordinates of Mecca are 21.4234, 39.8262 and the coordinates of the Flight 93 crash site are 40.052, -78.8963. Using the calculator from this site, I determined that the azimuth between the two points is 124.80.

Next I went to the Flight 93 National Memorial website and found the biggest overhead view of the memorial I could find with north oriented up. I measured the distance from tip-to-tip of the crescent and came up with 64px east-west and 90px north-south. The arctangent of 64/90 is the angle between north and a line drawn between the tips, which works out to 35.42. Adding 90 to this angle gives the direction the crescent faces as 125.42. Conclusion: the crescent points towards Mecca with an error of 0.62, or 0.17%.
I had my doubts, so I decided to check things for myself. The Flight 93 Memorial Site has a downloadable PDF map of the winning design, which I duly downloaded. The legend at the bottom of the map specifies it is oriented North, whether true or magnetic is not stipulated. (Magnetic declination is between 6 and 9 degrees W.) Drawing a line connecting the tips of the crescent and drawing a perpendicular, you can see which which way it "opens". Using a protractor, I found the crescent opens between 230 and 240 (southwest) degrees, or taking the reciprocal, between 50 and 60 (northeast). You are invited to do this yourselves and verify the result.
Wretchard fact checks and it comes out accurate:
Both give a result of 55 degrees true, or its reciprocal 235. I can tell you that my jaw fell open. The bearing given by both Great Circle Calculators corresponded near enough to the measured opening of the Crescent from the PDF map.
There is some possibility for coincidence -- Wretchard again:
Now it could have been coincidence. I went to architect Nelson Byrd Woltz's website and examined his portfolio. Many of his previous works emphasize the semicircular or crescent motif. For example, the Westminster Presbyterian Church Memorial Garden, Watercolor Park, Doris Duke Center and North Carolina Arboretum all seem to incorporate this semicircular theme. That brought me right back to the Flight 93 Memorial Site. If you look at the video provided, you'll see that the orientation of the "Crescent of Embrace" is determined, or at least very strongly suggested by the contours of the ground. (The PDF map shows the same thing). The contours run right through the opening of the crescent. Unless you wanted the park visitors to climb up and down contour lines the opening was exactly where it had to be. So the simplest explanation it seems to me, is that the orientation of the Crescent of Embrace is coincidental.

But what a coincidence! Memorials are symbols above all and it may be inappropriate to commemorate Flight 93 with a Red Crescent facing Mecca.
Finally, Zombietime has some more coverage of this including an animated GIF file that shows that not only is the memorial a crescent but it is the exact same proportions as the Islamic symbol. A reader of his site did this projection of the crescent on an azimuthal equidistant world map and this shows the relationship of the crescent with Mecca:
Click for full-size Image
Posted by DaveH at September 13, 2005 11:40 AM
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