Happy equinox, Earthlings! Sept. 22 marks the fall equinox, when day and night are nearly equal.
“However, that day/night length depends on where you are on Earth,” said NASA solar scientist Mitzi Adams. “For example, at the North and South Poles, the length of the day and night is six months!”
At the North Pole, the Sun will sink below the horizon for a kind of twilight from now until sometime in October when it will be completely dark, explained Adams. Spring twilight begins a few weeks before the vernal, or spring, equinox in March, when the Sun rises above the horizon again.
This only happens twice in Earth’s year-long trip around the Sun. The rest of the year, the Sun shines unevenly over the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. That’s because Earth’s axis is tilted with respect to the Sun-Earth plane. But on these special days – the spring and fall equinox – the Sun shines equally on both north and south.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day of astronomical fall. From now until the beginning of spring, nighttime hours will last longer than daylight as the Sun travels a shorter arc across the sky each day. The Sun has its shortest path of the year at the time of the winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night of the year — when sunrise and sunset are as far south as they can go (at any one location). It’s just the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where September 22 kicks off astronomical spring.
The equinox—meaning “equal night” in Latin—occurs at 8:31 a.m. CDT.
Happy equinox, Earthlings! March 20 marks the spring equinox, one of two seasonal markers in Earth’s year-long orbit when the Sun appears to shine directly over the equator, and daytime and nighttime are nearly equal lengths–12 hours–everywhere on the planet.
It’s the start of astronomical spring in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning more sunlight and longer days. From here until the beginning of fall, daytime will be longer than nighttime as the Sun travels a longer, higher arc across the sky each day, reaching a peak at the start of summer. It’s just the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where March 20 marks the fall equinox.
What’s more? The first full Moon of spring will rise tonight, lighting the skies on the equinox. Usually, a full Moon arrives a few days to weeks before or after the equinox. It’s close, but not a perfect match. Tonight’s full Moon, however, reaches maximum illumination less than four hours after the equinox. There hasn’t been a comparable coincidence since the spring equinox in 2000.
And because the Moon is near perigee, it qualifies as a supermoon–the third and final of 2019. It’s not a big supermoon, so you won’t really be able to see the difference between this full Moon and any other one with your eyes. But keep an keep an eye on the Moon as it rises and creeps above the eastern skyline. A low-hanging Moon can appear strangely inflated. This is the Moon illusion at work.
Super or seemingly not, it’s a rare celestial coincidence to usher in springtime.
Take a moment to gaze at the beautiful harvest moon this Saturday, September 29th.
(Image credit: NASA)
The harvest moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox became “the harvest moon,” and it was always a welcome sight.
Northern summer changed to fall last Saturday, Sept. 22nd, and is called the autumnal equinox. The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night.” The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator.
Keep an eye on the moon as it creeps above the eastern skyline. The golden sphere may appear inflated. This is the moon illusion at work. This optical illusion is caused by the moon’s proximity to distant objects. A harvest moon inflated by the moon illusion is simply beautiful to us, but even more so to the farmers getting their crops in on those cool autumn evenings.