March 20th: First Day of Spring Is the Vernal Equinox – Myths Debunked, Truths Revealed

by on March 20, 2014 · 0 comments

in Culture, Environment, History

 Spring sun earth diagram

By Jenna Abate / AccuWeather / March 20, 2014

Springtime is often associated with the ideas of rebirth, regrowth and renewal of the Earth as plants begin to bloom and we all experience a slight taste of the warmer months to come. The first official day of spring is marked annually by the vernal equinox. For 2014, the official start of the equinox is March 20, 2014.

AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski defines the Vernal Equinox as when the sun crosses the equator going south to north.

“The event happens during the Earth’s orbit around the sun and simultaneously on the imaginary dome of our sky. The equator is an imaginary line drawn right around Earth’s middle, like a belt. It divides Earth into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere,” Kottlowski said.

Myths & Truths of the Equinox

In years past, however, the equinox has been rumored to do more than just bring the sun’s rays to the Northern Hemisphere.

According to folklore, it’s rumored that you can stand a raw egg straight up on the day of the equinox.

“If you have enough focus and patience, you can do this anytime of year. In actuality, the sun will affect a much larger area, but on a small area like an egg it won’t make it any easier to stand up,” said Kottlowski.

Originating from Latin, equinox means ‘equal nights,’ and as a result it is rumored that there must be equal hours of both day and night (12 hours).

“No, that’s really more astronomical than anything we get closer with the equal length of day and night based on the effects of daylight saving. The one place where you’d probably see the most equality between day and night is at the equator, somewhere like Quito, Ecuador,” said Kottlowski.

According to rumors, the equinox is the best time to see the sun rise due east and set due west.

“The equinox provides a clear trajectory of the sun’s arch, so on the equinox if you’re driving on a flat road that runs east to west, for example, you’ll be driving into work to the east and facing the sun and you’d be coming home in the west and still facing the sun,” Kottlowski said.

During the equinox, the Earth tilts on its axis, which could change the length of a person’s shadow and potentially, at noon under direct sunlight, a person won’t cast a shadow at all.

“The sun’s angle does change your shadow. The higher the angle of the sun, the less shadow a body will cast. Directly at the equator with the sun directly lined up overhead, you may not have a shadow during the spring equinox at noon. The circumstances have to be so incredibly perfect for a body to cast no noontime shadow so the chances are slim,” Kottlowski said.

The length of a shadow might not be the most obvious sign of the Vernal Equinox, but there are some signs in nature that will provide a hint that spring is in the air.

Signs of Spring Arriving

If you live in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, you’ve likely been noticing the earlier dawns and later sunsets for some weeks now. The Northern Hemisphere is seeing more and more sunlight each day.

The longer days bring with them warmer weather as increasing temperatures and added sunlight induce tree budding and a new cycle of growth for plants. In many places, spring flowers are also beginning to bloom.

In the skies, an increasing number of birds will begin to cross the sky overhead as spring arrives. Both birds and butterflies alike begin to migrate back northward along with the path of the sun.

Animals are also beginning to awake from their long winter hibernations while household pets are just excited to be able to get outdoors and play again.

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