It’s Finally Spring! Everything to Know About the Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox and happy first day of spring! Today the length of night and day are nearly equal everywhere on Earth. The official start of the season, also known as the spring equinox or vernal equinox, is Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at 12:15 p.m (some years it occurs on March 21). The days will now become longer at the higher latitudes because it takes the sun longer to rise and set.

  • Earth’s rotation does not cause equinoxes.

  • Equinoxes occur when Earth’s tilted axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays.

  • During an equinox at Earth’s equator, the sun appears almost directly overhead.

How the Spring Equinox works

The Earth orbits around the sun one time, every 365 days and 6 hours. Meanwhile, our planet is rotating itself one time in 24 hours, on a tilted axis. That tilt is about 23.5 degrees, which gives different parts of the world various intensities of light from the sun over the course of a year. The spring equinox occurs when the sun’s warming rays line up perpendicular to Earth’s axial tilt. The sun will set and rise roughly 12 hours apart during the equinox. If you stand directly on the equator at noon in the Eastern Time time zone at noon, the sun will appear more or less directly overhead. Your shadow will also be at its absolute minimum.  But this moment won’t last as the Earth makes its way around the sun at a speed of roughly 66,600 mph. 

About the Equinoxes

Our planet’s orbit is elliptical and its center of gravity slightly offset from the sun, so the time it takes to cycle through the seasons isn’t perfectly divvied up. About 92 days and 19 hours after the spring equinox, the Earth will reach its summer solstice, or when the most direct rays of the sun reach their northernmost latitude, called the Northern Tropic (or Tropic of Cancer). Another 93 days and six hours later, the fall or autumnal equinox will occur. Then it’s another 89 days and 19 hours to the winter solstice — when the most direct sunlight strikes the Southern Tropic (or Tropic of Capricorn) — and another 89 days to get back to the spring equinox.

Around the World

Groups around the world mark the date with celebrations. Easter and Passover both occur close to the equinox. In China, many people take part in a game of egg balancing to mark the time of new life. And in Iran, the date marks the Persian New Year and kicks off the festival of Nowruz, which is celebrated in several countries in the region. For practitioners of some ancient religions that worship nature, including pagans and druids, it’s an important day known as Ostara. Many people still gather at Stone Henge in the U.K. to watch the sun rise over the mysterious site. 

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