BY JEANETTE LENOIR
The first day of spring is marked by the spring equinox, which falls on March 19 this year. The equinox happens at the same moment worldwide, even though our clock times reflect a different time zone.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE MARCH EQUINOX?
On the March equinox, according to astronomers and even meteorologists the sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. It’s called the “celestial equator” because it’s an imaginary line in the sky above the earth’s equator. If you were standing on the equator, the sun would pass directly overhead on its way north. Equinoxes are the only two times a year that the sun rises due east and sets due west for all of us on earth. While the sun passes overhead, the tilt of the earth is zero relative to the sun, which means that earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the sun. The earth never orbits upright, but is always tilted on its axis by about 23.5 degrees. After the spring equinox, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, which is why we start to get longer, sunnier days.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the official first day of spring is March 1 and the last is May 31. Weather scientists divide the year into quarters to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of earth in relation to the sun, and they more closely follow the Gregorian calendar. Using the dates of the astronomical equinoxes and solstices for the seasons presents a statistical problem, as these dates vary slightly each year.
EQUINOX VS. SOLSTICE
An equinox is an event that happens twice a year. The word “equinox” comes from a Latin term meaning “equal night.” That’s because during an equinox, it’s believed that all areas of the earth’s surface experience an equal amount of daylight and darkness; 12 hours each. In autumn, the equinox is in the northern hemisphere, and in spring, the equinox is in the southern hemisphere.
A solstice also happens twice a year. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere” meaning to make stand. It describes the moment that the sun reaches its northern or southernmost point. More specifically, it occurs when the sun’s path is farthest from the equator.
The biggest difference between the equinox and the solstice is that a solstice is the point during the earth’s orbit around the sun at which the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator, while during an equinox, it’s at the closest distance from the equator. Because of this, one solstice is an extremely long day, and the other is an extremely short day. Comparatively, during an equinox, the days and nights are equal lengths.
Regardless of the difference, these moments represent the need for restoration and awakening.