Spring Equinox & Eggs!
Mind Bending | March 1, 2020
Barlow SkyWatch By Alan J Peche, Director, Barlow Planetarium
The Start of Spring
At 10:50pm on Thursday, March 19, the Sun will pass directly over the equator. Most people in the Northern Hemisphere call this the start of spring; astronomers call this Vernal Equinox.
For everyone on Earth, the Sun will rise due east and will set due west. It is actually possible to see this change by using a street that you know runs east-west (have your parents help you with that). Watch the sunsets throughout March. In early March, the Sun will set to the south (or right) of the street. By March 19, the Sun will set perfectly lined up with the road. Finally, by the end of March, and early April, the Sun will be setting to the north (or left) of the street. If you have a digital camera, take some pictures of the changing Sun throughout the month of March and ask your parents to post them to the Barlow Planetarium’s Facebook page.
Equinox is a very descriptive term meaning “equal night” and on the equinoxes – both the Vernal (Spring) and Autumnal (Fall) – the days are nearly equal. However, due to the Earth’s atmosphere that bends the light (like a pencil in a glass of water) the spring date of “equal night” actually occurs on March 16 when the Sun is above and below the horizon for 12 hours.
There is a curious tradition of balancing eggs on end on the Vernal Equinox. Supposedly, all the “gravitational” forces are supposed to cancel to allow this to happen. This tradition dates back to the ancient Chinese. It is true that you can balance an egg on end on the Vernal Equinox; however, it is also true you can balance an egg on end on any day of the year AS WELL.
American’s learned about the tradition in 1945 when a LIFE magazine reporter witnessed the Chinese celebrating the first day of spring by balancing eggs. However, the traditional Chinese spring celebration is celebrated in early February (around the same time as our Ground Hog Day); SIX WEEKS before the actual equinox – this actually proves it is possible on any day of the year.
Try balancing an egg on end (some people have even done it on the small end!) on March 19 – or on any other day. With some persistence and patience you will be able to do it. If you do, please take a picture and post it to the Barlow’s Facebook page.
Each month, the Barlow Planetarium, Wisconsin’s first major planetarium, provides interesting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics for students of all ages.
TO GET A CURRENT SKYCHART: Visit the Skymaps link under the “Astronomy Resources” link at BarlowPlanetarium.org.