“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus
If you want music while reading this, try a bit of “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
On Monday, September 22 at 10:29 P.M. EDT, the autumnal equinox will click into place and fall will arrive here in Paradelle and for the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
Even though many Americans take Labor Day weekend as the end of summer, and plenty of schoolchildren see the day before school reopens as the end, officially it will be tomorrow. The temperatures will gradually drop and the hours of daylight will lessen.
The word equinox is from the Latin words for equal + night, although we know now that it is not exactly equal with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. On both equinoxes, the very center of the Sun sets 12 hours after it rises. Of course, we consider the day to begin when the upper edge of the Sun peaks over the horizon a bit ahead of the Sun’s center. And, no matter what the clock says, most of us don’t think of it as night until the entire Sun disappears at that opposite horizon.
If you want to get all scientific, the Sun is still visible when it is below the horizon because our atmosphere refracts the rays and bends them in an arc over the horizon.
Not exactly equal, but pretty close.
This autumnal equinoxes and the spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator, in other words, the solar terminator is perpendicular to the Equator. So, if equality is what you seek on the equinox, these are the days when the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are illuminated equally.
I prefer the terms “vernal equinox” and “autumnal equinox” which also come from Latin (ver = spring and autumnus = autumn). Unfortunately, these name are seasonal and most people know that seasons of the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere are opposites. Our autumnal event is the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere. Have a nice Spring all of you down there!
Can you balance an egg on its end on an equinox? Sure, you can. But you can stand an egg on its end any day though. Nothing special about the equinox.
Still, I suspect that this is likely to be the day that the most people actually think to try and do it.
You just need patience and a steady hand. You can cheat a bit and shake up the egg first to break the yolk loose from the chalazae that keep it suspended in the center of the egg. That will lower the egg’s center of gravity.
Some people also make the false claim that you can balance a broom on the equinox. You might be able to balance your checkbook if, again, you have a steady hand.
The equinox might be a symbolically good day to balance yourself. Maybe some easy yoga poses. How about a tai chi class? (Excellent for senior citizens.) Perhaps, a centering ceremony.
The leaves are falling, falling as from way off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.
And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.
We all are falling. This hand falls.
And look at others: it is in them all.
And yet there is one who holds this falling
endlessly gently in his hands.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Autumn”
As hemisphere-centric as most of us can be, we are all very Earth-centric. Equinox is a phenomenon that can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis.
The equinox would be a much bigger deal on Saturn. That planet’s equinox occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. I’ll bet there are lots of posts about the equinox on Saturn’s version of Facebook every 15 years.
When Saturn’s equinox does occur, those majestic rings we all know pick up almost no light, so if you view it from Earth the view of the rings during equinox is extremely foreshortened and limited.
But we have eyes in the sky. Cassini-Huygens (an unmanned spacecraft) orbits Saturn and is always taking photos. The shot below is from its wide-angle camera and composed of many exposures taken over about 8 hours patched into a mosaic. It shows the rings and a few of its moons a day and a half after exact Saturn equinox, when the Sun’s disk was exactly overhead at the planet’s equator.
“Saturn, its rings, and a few of its moons” by NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA CICLOPS. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.