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What Exactly Is the Spring Equinox?

solstice, baobab, sunset

The equinox occurs twice a year. The vernal equinox happens around March 21, when the sun moves north across the celestial equator. The autumnal equinox occurs around September 22nd or 23rd, when the sun crosses the celestial equator going south.

The word equinox comes from Latin and means “equality of night and day.” Contrary to popular belief, the equinox does not last for 24 hours. It occurs at two specific moments in time when the sun is exactly above the equator.  If you want to be truly egalitarian, opt for saying March equinox and September equinox. These terms avoid the Northern Hemisphere bias that March is in the spring and September is in the autumn.

The equinox is often confused with the solstice, which is either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The solstice occurs around June 21 and December 22. Solstice derives from the Latin solstitium, which literally means “the standing still of the sun.”

The equinox has inspired a number of false beliefs, including that the event causes a massive disruption of communication satellites. Another myth claims that on the equinox an egg can effortlessly be balanced on its end. (English almost used a different word instead of “egg” to mean the things chickens lay.) One of our favorite myths is the email hoax that, for a brief time, Mars will look as big as the moon. Read about that here.

Are there natural phenomena you would like us to examine? Events, physical occurrences, holidays you would like us to deeply define and unwind? Let us know, right below.

6 Comments

  1. Philip Dawson -  June 22, 2014 - 8:28 am

    Good Summer Solstice article excepting a seriously misleading statement that “Days continue to lengthen from the Autumn equinox to the Summer Solstice.” No they don’t – this should surely be from the Winter Solstice or at the very least, from the Spring Equinox. Please correct!

    Reply
  2. Kathy Crawford -  June 21, 2014 - 1:43 pm

    What makes the harvest moon look the way it does?

    Reply
  3. Rafiq Munir -  March 24, 2014 - 9:51 am

    As demonstrated by a co-worker several years ago, I stood a raw egg on its end during the “March equinox” contrary to your statement above. I can forward a photo (not photo-shopped or otherwise manipulated) if you would like the evidence. [Admittedly, it took a little effort and patience so you could technically discount my rebuttal with our "effortlesly" descriptor.]

    Reply
  4. Kieran -  March 23, 2014 - 7:08 am

    A friend and I were wondering if the spring equinox has any correlation or effects on tides at all.

    Reply
  5. Jonnee Western -  March 20, 2014 - 4:59 pm

    Spring is the time when Ceres has finally rescued her daughter, Persephone, from the clutches of Pluto, god of the underworld . The signs of Persephone’s return from the underworld are green grass more sunlight, birds singing, rabbits begin to proliferate, birds lay eggs, lots of stuff seems to be coming into their most beautiful display.

    Reply
    • I am confused . You said June 21st is the starting of Summer and then why you wished a very happy Autumn which is 3 months far off -  June 23, 2014 - 4:16 am

      It is Summer Solstice on June 21st , the beginning of Summer . Why then the reader is wished “a happy Autumn”

      Reply

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