When is the Spring Equinox?
I should begin by saying that there are actually two different dates for the beginning of spring. If you are using the meteorological definition then congratulations, it is already spring for you! This follows the Gregorian calendar and simply divides the year into four quarters (and four seasons). Meteorological spring begins on March 1st, until summer on June 1st. Astronomically, the equinox marks the beginning of spring and the exact date varies slightly from year to year.
This year, the spring (or ‘vernal’) equinox is on Friday 20th March. One week from today!
Every solstice and equinox people from all around the world come to Stonehenge, which was constructed to align with the changing seasons 5,000 years ago.
What is the Equinox?
Equinox is a Latin word which translates to mean “equal night” (equi – equal nox – night) and it refers to the length of the night being equal to the length of the day. There are two equinoxes every year, the spring and autumn equinox in March and September respectively.
On the equinox, the sun shines directly on the equator. On every other day of the year, it shines a little above or below creating longer days or longer nights. By contrast, the winter and summer solstice are marked by being the shortest and longest days of the year (shortest in winter, longest in summer).
Fun fact: The sun doesn’t shine in the same place because the earth spins on a tilted axis. It is reckoned a huge asteroid once collided with earth to knock it off its axis. The same happened to Venus which is why it rotates in the opposite direction to the other planets in our solar system!
The Countdown to Spring
There are lots of reasons to get excited about the arrival of spring. The flowers bloom, the birds cheap, it starts to get warmer (in the northern hemisphere) and cools off from summer in the southern hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is currently affected most by the outbreak of coronavirus and it is believed the virus flourishes in cold and dry conditions. Whatever your reasons may be, it is usually a time of year welcomed by everyone.
There happens to be some quite interesting astronomical viewing on this spring equinox, and the 6 nights before it too. There’s no particular reason why there should be, other than to say there’s always something going on up there. What better way to commemorate the countdown to spring than with space’s very own stargazing schedule? Finally, people all over the world get the exact same viewing time!
Friday 13th March – Look for Venus in the west. It has been shining brightly for a while now. The only thing that has changed is the stars relative to Venus are moving slowly down and to the right of it.
Saturday 14th March – Asteroid 27 Euterpe will be in Virgo at sunset. It is a magnitude 9.4 asteroid (magnitude refers to its brightness). Don’t worry, it’s not going to hit earth!
Sunday 15th March – Spot the beautiful zodiacal light, stretching from Taurus through Aries to Pisces. Be careful not to confuse this with the milky way to the northwest. You can see the zodiacal light from March 11th – 22nd.
Monday 16th March – Tonight will be the last quarter moon. The moon has been steadily waning since the supermoon, dubbed ‘Worm Moon’, on March 9th. Don’t worry if you missed it, there are two more supermoons this year.
Tuesday 17th March – Keep an eye out for Orion’s belt which is often green this time of year; perfect for St Paddy’s day!
Wednesday 18th March – If you’re looking at the moon on Wednesday you may mistake the nearby Jupiter and Mars for stars.
Thursday 19th March – Same thing on Thursday but this time with a different planet! The moon will be passing nearby Saturn.
Friday 20th March – Spring equinox! The day will be the same length as the night. Not only that. Mars and Jupiter get even closer. If you want to look out for them, Jupiter should appear about six times larger than Mars.