What is the Spring equinox and when does it take place?

The spring equinox is an event which takes place once a year, but what is it, what does it signify and when does it happen? (Photo: Shutterstock)
The spring equinox is an event which takes place once a year, but what is it, what does it signify and when does it happen? (Photo: Shutterstock)

The spring equinox is an event which takes place once a year, but what is it, what does it signify and when does it happen?

When is the Spring Equinox 2020?

This year the spring equinox occurs on Friday 20 March. It marks the moment when the sun crosses the earth’s equator, and day and night become equal lengths of time.

The spring equinox signifies the moment when winter finishes and spring starts, for the Northern Hemisphere.

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    The term ‘equinox’ derives its name from the Latin name ‘eqi’, which means ‘equal’, and ‘nox’, which means ‘night’.

    There are two equinoxes each year, in March and September, according to the astronomical calendar - both are when the day and night are approximately 12 hours each everywhere on Earth.

    The autumn equinox marks the start of autumn, and this year will fall on 22 September.

    How do people celebrate the Spring equinox?

    Ostara is a pagan celebration of the spring equinox, which has been both observed and celebrated for a long time in many areas around the globe.

    Ostara, also known as Ēostre, is the Germanic goddess of spring and dawn. On the old Germanic calendar, the equivalent month to April was called “Ōstarmānod”, also known as Easter-month.

    Gatherings take place to celebrate spring equinox around the world. At El Castillo in Mexico, which is the site of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, people watch the sun create snake-like shadows on the pyramid steps, with similar events taking place at Mayan temples across central America.

    Astronomical and Meteorological Spring

    According to the Met Office, “Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth's orbit in relation to the Sun, considering equinoxes and solstices.

    “This is due to the 23.5 degrees of tilt of the Earth's rotational axis concerning its orbit around the Sun.

    “Since the seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year.”

    However, astronomical spring depends on the date of the spring equinox, which is also known as the vernal equinox or the March equinox.

    There’s also meteorological spring, which differs in definition from astronomical spring. The Met Office explains that “Meteorological seasons are instead based on the annual temperature cycle and measure the meteorological state, as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.”

    The meteorological seasons are split into four periods made up of three months each, in order to coincide with the Gregorian calendar, “making it easier for meteorological observing and forecasting to compare seasonal and monthly statistics,” adds the Met Office.

    “By the meteorological calendar, spring will always start on 1 March; ending on 31 May.”

    What are the first signs of Spring?

    You may define Spring as the time when the nights get lighter and longer, or perhaps less chilly, with the Met Office explaining it as, “the transition season between winter and summer during which we see days getting longer, temperatures warming and plants blossoming in time for summer.

    What is the weather usually like?

    Although the weather can be temperamental during the period of Spring, it’s often warmer and drier than the winter and autumn months.

    The Met Office explains that it is “often calm and dry due to the Atlantic losing heat during autumn and winter, leading to less heat and moisture being transferred to the atmosphere.”

    The sun is high in the sky during springtime, which means temperatures can rise in the day, but then stay cool at night due to the “moderating effect of the ocean temperature.”

    The Temperatures seen in the UK during Spring are “largely influenced by latitude, with northern parts of the UK such as Scotland seeing cooler temperatures compared to the lower latitudes and the southern UK experiencing warmer temperatures,” explains the Met Office.