March Equinox in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is on
Friday, March 20, 2015 at 6:45 PM EDT
The Sun Crosses the Equator
The March equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north. This happens on March 19, 20 or 21 every year.
Spring in the North, Fall in the South
Equinoxes and solstices are opposite on either side of the equator, and the March equinox is also known as the “spring (vernal) equinox” in the northern hemisphere and as the “autumnal (fall) equinox” in the southern hemisphere.
Why is it Called “Equinox”?
On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world. This is the reason it’s called an “equinox”, derived from Latin, meaning “equal night”. However, in reality equinoxes don’t have exactly 12 hours of daylight
What Happens on the Equinox?
The Earth’s axis is always tilted at an angle of about 23.5° in relation to the ecliptic, the imaginary plane created by the Earth’s path around the Sun. On any other day of the year, the Earth’s axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the two equinoxes, the tilt of the Earth’s is neither away from nor towards the Sun. In fact, it is perpendicular to the Sun’s rays, like the illustration shows.
Celebrating new Beginnings
The March equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth in the Northern Hemisphere. Many cultures celebrate spring festivals and holidays around the March equinox, like Easter and Passover.
The Snake of Sunlight
One of the most famous ancient Spring equinox celebrations was the Mayan sacrificial ritual by the main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico.
The main pyramid – also known as El Castillo – has four staircases running from the top to the bottom of the pyramid’s faces, notorious for the bloody human sacrifices that used to take place here.
The staircases are built at a carefully calculated angle which makes it look like an enormous snake of sunlight slithers down the stairs on the day of the equinox.
Knowledge of the equinoxes and solstices is also crucial in developing dependable calendars, another thing the Mayans clearly had got the hang of.