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Spring Equinox

© John Keith 2010

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(Days become longer from the Spring Equinox to the Summer Solstice and then shorter from the Autumn Equinox to the Winter Solstice.)

As the world saw during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, spring came early this year to the west coast of Canada. Whistler, being inland from the coast, was fine, but the snow melted away on Vancouver’s north shore mountains. Endless truckloads of snow were carted in from the interior of the province -- past the crocuses and daffodils and the blossoming trees of the lower mainland -- and piled high on the ski and snowboard slopes of Cypress Mountain. This early spring, however, was early spring weather. Official spring, astronomical spring, as always, starts on the Spring Equinox.

From the northern hemisphere’s longest night and shortest day of the year on December 21st , the noon-day sun has been steadily climbing higher in the sky, and days are becoming longer and longer. This year, Saturday March 20th is the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere and the first day of Autumn in the southern hemisphere. On this day, the sun in its climb northward is directly over the equator, and the whole world has equal day and night. This phenomenon of course, is called the equinox, from the Latin root words which mean “equal night”.

After the first day of Spring and the equinox, the sun ascends still higher and higher in the sky and brings more and more light and warmth. Days continue to become longer, but not everywhere at the same rate of change. Days lengthen more quickly farther away from the equator. In Los Angeles, California, for example, at the equinox, each day is 2 minutes longer than the day before, but days lengthen in Vancouver BC over 3 ½ minutes a day, and further north in Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, the length of day increases by over 5 ½ minutes. By the Summer Solstice on June 21st when the sun reaches its furthest point north and “stands still” over the Tropic of Cancer, Los Angeles will have 14 ½ hours of sunshine, but Vancouver will have 16 ¼ hours almost two more hours of daylight, and Whitehorse will have an incredible 20 hours of daylight. Sunsets and sunrises and the twilight of dawn and dusk are longer, too, because the sun rises and sets at more of an angle to the horizon than further south. Above the Arctic Circle, at the Summer Solstice, the sun never sets, but dips down near the northern horizon at midnight and then rises again. This of course, is “the land of the midnight sun”.

After the solstice and throughout the warm days of summer, the noon sun gets lower and lower and the days become shorter as the wheel of seasons moves on – on past the equal night and day of the Autumnal Equinox on September 21st to the Winter Solstice on December 21st. Once more it is the longest night of the year: 14 hours in L.A., almost 16 hours in Vancouver, and in Whitehorse night is 18 ½ hours long. North of the Arctic Circle, of course, the night is endless, although near noon the Arctic darkness gives way to a twilight glow in the south as the sun approaches the horizon but never actually climbs above it.

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