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Thursday
October 22nd, 2020

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In 2020, the autumnal equinox — also called the September equinox or fall equinox — arrives Tuesday. 

Fall begins in the Northern Hemisphere and spring begins in the Southern Hemisphere. Read about the signs of fall and the ways we mark the approaching equinox. 

 

WHEN IS THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX?

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The fall equinox arrives Tuesday at 8:31 a.m. CDT. The equinox occurs at the same moment worldwide. 

WHAT IS THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX?

The autumnal equinox — also called the September or fall equinox — is the astronomical start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere and of the spring season in the Southern Hemisphere.

WHAT IS AN EQUINOX?

The word “equinox” comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal,” and nox, “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length.

During the equinox, the Sun crosses what we call the “celestial equator” — an imaginary extension of Earth’s equator line into space. 

The equinox occurs precisely when the Sun’s center passes through this line. When the Sun crosses the equator from north to south, this marks the autumnal equinox; when it crosses from south to north, this marks the vernal equinox.

After the autumnal equinox, the Sun begins to rise later and nightfall comes sooner. This ends with the December solstice, when days start to grow longer and nights shorter.

 

FALL WEATHER

Another definition of fall is “nights of below-freezing temperatures combined with days of temperatures below 70 degrees. From here on out, the temperatures begin to drop.

Will fall bring crisp, cool weather — or, unseasonably warm weather? It depends on where you live.

 

FALL FOLIAGE

Note that fall foliage isn’t due to current weather conditions. This is a common misconception. Leaves change color because of the amount of daylight and photosynthesis.

 

FALL EQUINOX FAQS

Q: ARE DAY AND NIGHT PERFECTLY EQUAL ON THE EQUINOX?

A:  Some say that during an equinox, day and night is equal. Well, not exactly. It depends on where you live.

On the equinox, the center of the Sun is indeed above the horizon for 12 hours. However, “sunrise” is said to begin when the upper edge of the Sun’s disk becomes visible above the horizon (which happens a bit before the center rises) and ends when the entire Sun has set. In this case, daylight is still a bit longer than nighttime. 

Not only that, but the Sun is actually visible when it is below the horizon, as Earth’s atmosphere refracts the Sun’s rays and bends them in an arc over the horizon. Yes, you can see the Sun before the edge actually reaches the horizon. This causes daylight to be longer than 12 hours as well.

 

Q: IS THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX REALLY THE FIRST DAY OF FALL?

A: Based on the astronomical definition of seasons, yes, the autumnal equinox does mark the first day of fall (in the Northern Hemisphere). However, according to the meteorological definition of seasons, which is based on temperature cycles and the Gregorian calendar, the first day of fall is Sept. 1.

 

Q: CAN YOU BALANCE AN EGG ON THE EQUINOX?

A: There’s an old-wife’s tale that you can stand an egg on its end of the equinox. Well, yes, it’s true (and fun to try). But it’s not only on the equinox. 

 

SIGNS OF FALL

What are your local signs of fall? In many regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the landscape silently explodes with vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange. The leaves begin to drop off the trees, providing endless hours of jumping into leaf piles for kids and raking them back up for parents!

Trees snapping and cracking in the autumn indicate dry weather.

Fall also brings some wonderful holidays, including Halloween and Thanksgiving, which carry us through the season until temperatures begin to drop, nights begin to get longer, and all the woodland critters start storing up for the long haul of winter. 

And don’t forget about the end of Daylight Saving Time, when we “fall” back, setting our clocks back one hour and regaining an hour of precious sleep.

Plants and trees are slowing down, as sunlight decreases, to get ready for the colder season ahead. In the garden, asters and chrysanthemums bloom beautifully as orange pumpkins and corn mazes abound.

Football season is warming up and so is sweater weather.

Also notice the arc of the Sun across the sky each day as it starts shifting south. Birds and butterflies migrate along with the path of our Sun.

Of course, you can you can easily notice the later dawns and earlier sunsets.

 

ANCIENT AUTUMN TRADITIONS 

The fall equinox has been a day of celebration for cultures since ancient days. People tracked the transitions of the Earth’s journeys around the Sun.

At Machu Picchu in Peru, an ancient stone monument called Intihuatana — which means “Hitching Post of the Sun” — serves as a solar clock to mark the dates of the equinoxes and solstices. 

In Mexico, the Mayans built a giant pyramid called Chichen Itza. On the equinoxes, it looks as if a snake made of light slithers down the pyramid’s steps.

In England, Stonehenge was also built with the equinoxes and solstices in mind.

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