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20 March 2018 – the equinox

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Now that we’re within the month of March, it is barely a short while till 21 March, the primary day of spring (or first day of autumn should you’re one among my readers within the southern hemisphere).

There’s a generally held view that 21 March is an equinox and that the equinoxes are the 2 days within the yr when all locations on the Earth have precisely 12 hours of daylight and 12 dead nights. In actual fact, as I’ll clarify later, each these statements are solely roughly appropriate.  In actuality the scenario is as follows.

  • 21 March can typically be the date on which the spring equinox falls however its date varies from yr to yr and likewise relies upon upon the place you’re situated.  In 2018 it’s going to fall on 20 March for many locations on the planet.
  • On the equinoxes there may be truly nowhere on the Earth the place there are precisely 12 hours of daylight and 12 dead nights.

What’s an equinox?

The origin of the phrase equinox comes from two Latin phrases aequus (equal) and nox (night time). This definition means that at an equinox the size of the day and night time are equal. Nonetheless the exact astronomical definition of an equinox is barely completely different.

Earths Orbit

The diagram above exhibits the Earth going across the Solar in its orbit

  • On the December solstice (level A within the diagram) the North Pole is tilted additional away from the Solar than at another time of the yr, and the South Pole is tilted nearest the Solar.  Within the northern hemisphere the interval of darkness is longest in contrast with the interval of daylight, and within the southern hemisphere the reverse applies.
  • On the summer season solstice in June (level C) it’s precisely the other of the winter solstice – it’s the North Pole which is now tilted nearest to the Solar so the northern hemisphere experiences the longest interval of daylight.
  • There are two instances a yr (B and D within the diagram) when the neither the North Pole nor the South Pole are tilted in direction of the Solar and these instances are the equinoxes.  If we take two locations with the identical latitude, one among which is North of the equator and the opposite one South of the equator, (for instance Istanbul, Turkey 41oand Wellington New Zealand 41oS ) they are going to each have the identical quantity of daylight on the equinox.

On what date do the equinoxes happen?

The diagram additionally exhibits that the Earth strikes in an elliptical orbit across the Solar. Which means it has additional to journey in its orbit between the March equinox and the September equinox than within the return leg of its journey from September to March. The 2 equinoxes are due to this fact not precisely half a yr aside: from the March equinox to the September equinox is round 186 days, whereas from the September equinox to the March equinox is barely 179 days.

The tables under give the instances of the 2 equinoxes from 2016 to 2021  for 3 Places: London (Greenwich Imply Time or GMT), Honolulu (GMT -10 hours) and Tokyo (GMT +9 hours).  As you’ll be able to see, the northern hemisphere spring equinox can happen on 19, 20 or 21 March and the autumn equinox on 22 or 23 September.

spring equinox times

autumn equinox times

(Knowledge TimeandDate.com 2016a)

On what dates in a yr are there are precisely 12 hours of daylight?

The very first thing we’d like to consider once we reply this query is what can we imply by the phrase ‘daylight’? Can we take into account twilight, the time simply after dawn or simply earlier than sundown when it’s not utterly darkish, to be daylight? Or can we take into account daylight as being the time when the Solar is above the horizon?

If we use the definition of ‘daylight’ as being the interval between dawn and sundown then there are literally barely greater than 12 hours of daylight on the equinox all over the place on the planet.  The primary motive for that is that the definition of dawn is the time when the primary mild from the Solar’s rays reaches above the horizon, not when the centre of the Solar is above the horizon. The diagram under exhibits the trail of the Solar’s disc round dawn on the equinox in London.  Within the early morning, the time when the half of the Solar is above the horizon and half under the horizon is 6:03 am, proven as B within the diagram, however dawn is about a minute earlier than this time.

Sun path sunrise

Equally, within the early night the time when half of the Solar is above the horizon and half under the horizon is 6:13 pm,  B within the diagram, however sundown is when the final mild from the Solar’s rays are above the horizon and is about a minute after this time.

Sun path sunset

The second motive for there being greater than 12 hours of daylight on the equinox is that when the Solar is slightly below the horizon the Earth’s environment bends the Solar’s rays, inflicting it to seem simply above the horizon. This bending of sunshine is called refraction and has the impact of barely extending the hours of daylight.

Taken collectively, these two results imply that there are barely greater than 12 hours of daylight on the equinox. The desk under exhibits the  quantity of daylight for dates across the equinox in London and Wellington.  It exhibits that the date on which there are precisely 12 hours of daylight and 12 dead nights in London is 17 March, three days earlier however in Wellington it’s three days afterward 23 March.


(TimeandDate.com 2016b)


TimeandDate.com (2016) Solstices & Equinoxes for London (Surrounding 10 Years).  Accessible at: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/seasons.html?n=136 (Accessed: 5 March 2016).

TimeandDate.com (2016) London, ENG, United Kingdom — Dawn, Sundown, and Daylength, March 2016, Accessible at: http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/uk/london(Accessed: 1 March 2016).


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