The spring equinox is significant because after a long and dark winter, the hours of day and night are equal for the first time this year – about 12 hours each.
Astronomically speaking, the equinox falls on March 19 or 20 every year, marking spring’s beginning in the Northern Hemisphere (whereas it announces fall’s arrival in the Southern Hemisphere). The equinox happens at the same moment worldwide, even if our clock times reflect a different time zone.
The vernal equinox is the astrological name for the spring equinox. It marks the moment the sun crosses the equator from south to north. It occurred at 10.29 GMT.
At the Vernal Equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic.All over the world, days and nights are approximately equal. The name equinox comes from Latin words which mean “equal night”—aequus (equal) and nox (night). Enjoy the increasing sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets.
On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the Sun’s rays about equally because 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. (Note, however, that the Earth never orbits upright, but is always tilted on its axis by about 23.5 degrees.)
The equinox differs from the solstices, which occur twice yearly to mark the sun’s most northern or southern position relative to the equator. This year, the summer solstice falls on Wednesday, 21 June, while the winter solstice is on Thursday, 21 December.
Scientific explanation aside, our ancestors were more connected to the Sun than we are today. They observed its pathway across the sky; they tracked how the sunrise, sunset, and daylength changed, using the Sun (and Moon) as a clock and calendar. If you have ever been to Stonehenge or Machu Picchu, you’ll see examples of ancient seasonal markers.
Ostara is the name given by Pagans and Wiccans to the spring equinox and is one of the eight ‘sabbats’ – periods they believe make up the year. Some observers believe the event is a revival of ancient celebrations of spring, which merged into Easter after the spread of Christianity in the British Isles. Modern observers often see in Ostara at Stonehenge, in a similar fashion to the summer and winter solstices.
SIGNS OF THE EQUINOX IN NATURE
- Worms begin to emerge from the earth. Even the March Moon is called “The Full Worm Moon” for this reason.
- Notice the arc of the Sun across the sky as it shifts toward the north. Birds are migrating northward, along with the path of the Sun.
- Speaking of birds, did you know that the increasing sunlight triggers bird song? Cool, eh? Enjoy our Bird Songs page.
- Trees, shrubs and flowers are sensitive to temperature and daylength, too! Since ancient days, people have used them as indicators of when the weather is right for planting. For example: Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach. See more of nature’s signs.
- Of course, the longer days bring warmer weather! Both we and the animals around us strip off our clothes and heavy coats!
- Ready, set, plant! March is time to start gardens and sow seeds in many regions. See your personalized Best Planting Dates.