International Observance: Celebrate the sun on equinox

SUNDAY, MARCH 20: In the Northern Hemisphere, we certainly could use more sun right now—and, soon, we’ll get it! Today, it’s officially time to welcome the ever-expanding light of spring for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. The event occurs at precisely 11:21 p.m. UTC tonight. The letters UTC reference a highly accurate global time standard, which is roughly the same as Greenwich Mean Time unless you’re counting tiny fractions of seconds. (If you’re not sure how far away you are from GMT, here’s a cool World Time map maintained by the Swiss watch industry.)

At the Equinox, the Earth is no longer tilting its poles away from or toward the Sun. The center of the Sun appears vertically overhead at a point along the Earth’s Equator. Although “equinox” is generally a term used to signify equal days and nights, today’s astronomical event occurs in just a single moment. Still, the days and nights surrounding the vernal and autumnal equinoxes are very close in length. (Wikipedia has details.)

Nearly every culture has devoted some type of ritual to the days surrounding equinox. In Japan, it’s Shunbun no hi, a national holiday spent visiting family graves; the Iranian calendar begins today—and Wiccans and Neopagans around the world mark Ostara, and we’ve got a separate story about that today. And here’s a unique event: In some communities around Annapolis, Maryland, boat crews stage the Burning Of The Socks Festival, getting rid of those old winter socks—and liberally toasting spring.

Science buffs and curious kids can learn all about global connections through NASA’s Sun-Earth Day, a series of programs and events through the year that culminate on or near the spring equinox. Dig into these astronomical complexities with webcasts, multimedia, print resources and more. This year, NASA’s overall theme is, “Ancient Mysteries—Future Discoveries.”

Feel free to Email us at [email protected] if you’ve got a unique rite of spring to share!

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