By Phil Plait | March 20, 2006 10:21 am

At 18:26 Universal (Greenwich) time today, March 20, the center of the Sun will be at Right Ascension 0h0m0s and a declination of 0o0m0s, which means it will pass directly over the Earth’s equator as it moves north in its annual path around the ecliptic.

You and I call that the vernal equinox. OK, I call it that. You’d probably call it the first day of Spring. I wouldn’t call it that, but hey, semantics.

Around the United States today, kids in their classrooms will be standing eggs on end, or at least newsrooms will be talking about it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then read this, and then this, and if you’re really enjoying yourself, this.

And if you are really a glutton for punishment, see when the equinoxes, solstices, perihelia, and aphelia will be for the next 14 years.

You know, I have a whole book about stuff like this, too.


Comments (39)

Links to this Post

  1. brainwagon | March 20, 2006
  2. The Evil Eyebrow » Blog Archive » Summer Solstice | June 20, 2006
  1. Phobos

    Never mind the eggs…what about that encoded message at the bottom right of Phil’s fridge?!? Something for his alien friends, I’ll wager.

  2. There’s those who call it the first day of Fall, but they are all upside down and the blood have all run up into their heads so they are a bit woozy….

    Already got your book, when is the next one coming?

    I think the message on his fridge can be decoded to: “My cooking sucks”, the fire extinguisher on top of fridge was the clue….

  3. I think the message is, “Phil what have you done with all the eggs?”, or perhaps “So long and thanks for all the eggs.” 😉

    Okay I have to ask, Phil, did you use salt to stand the eggs?

  4. Michelle Rochon

    Aahh, I remember the first time I decided to waste time trying (And managed) to stand an egg on my kitchen counter… It was July 15th 2005. Wasn’t vernal equinox and I didn’t even cheat!

    Then I ate it. :)

  5. kit

    I still can’t get this first day of spring thing. To me December, January and February are winter months. March April and May – spring. Spring starts on the 1st of March. It’s in your calendar, stupid.

  6. Be grateful you aren’t using a lunar calendar kit… you’d be even more confused! 😉

  7. hale_bopp

    Kit, you are obviously of a meteorological bent (not that there’s anything wrong with that :) Meteoroligists classify winter as the coldest three months of the year which are December, January and February. There is a difference between meteorlogical winter and astronomical winter.


  8. Kevin

    Yeah, I had a friend of mine believing that you could only stand eggs up on this day, until I called him over to my house and showed him the 9 eggs I had standing up – on August 12th.

  9. ericnh

    I work at one of the local stations here in Boston and am waiting tonights newscasts with baited breath. As one of the engineering techs who has nothing to do with writing, producing, or editing the news, I enjoy lambasting our news department over shoddy reporting. When they mistakenly reported recently about the most recent Shuttle delay, the copy read (paraphrased): “this would be the first Shuttle launch since the Columbia tragedy in 2003”, and I complained, the response I got back was something like “well, it was written correctly originally, because the return flight last July had already been delayed, and in a rewrite the news dept. had mangled the wording. To me it was just another example of shoddy writing and lack of fact-checking. Let’s see if they pull out this tired urban egg myth and beat it to death (pun intended).

  10. Tim G

    It’s almost as impressive as eggheads standing on their heads.

    To be Hemisphere neutral, maybe this should be called the “Northward Equinox” and the Summer Solstice should be called the “Northern Solstice”.

  11. Before we change the names of the solstices and the equinoxen, we need to do something about sunrise and sunset. Geocentric words almost five centuries after Copernicus, and more than two thousand years after Aristarchus! It’s a shame.

    Buckminster Fuller and his family suggested sunsight and sunclipse. Anybody got better choices?

  12. Berkeley

    First day of spring? Not the way it is snowing today.

    Actually the old Norwegian calendar (it is a piece of wood with markings on it) calls April 14 the first day of summer. Which is strange, since it has been used in Norway.

  13. Sid

    Nice shirt, Phil.

  14. aiabx

    Nope, it isn’t spring until I can balance an egg on its end, so keep those boots and parkas out.

  15. Kevin F.

    I’d like mine overhard, Phil. Got any coffee?

  16. Chip

    Balancing a plate of scrambled eggs on the vernal equinox, (with a side of toast and orange juice,) though not as impressive as an unbroken raw egg, could nevertheless be an affirmation of chaos theory.

  17. P. Edward Murray

    And did Mrs. B. A. say: “You did what with my eggs?”:)

    Actually in all honesty, pretty darn neat Phil!

  18. Cindy

    So, Phil, will this be one of the things you bash on “Cosmos” meets “Mythbusters”?

    Unfortunately I’m out of eggs, otherwise I’d bring some in for my class tomorrow.

  19. >Buckminster Fuller and his family suggested sunsight and sunclipse. >Anybody got better choices?

    Don’t like the latter: too easily confused with an eclipse.

    You can’t say sunon/sunoff – implies that the sun is turning off at night.

    How about suneast and sunwest? Er. No that implies the sun rises due east and sets due west.

    How about simply daybreak (or daylight) and nightfall?

  20. Love those granite countertops. Who did your kitchen? I need mine redone, the eggs won’t stand upright on my 1958 formica countertops…

  21. I don’t care for eggs all that much, but I do have a killer image manipulating program. Although the picture of Phil’s kitchen is in low resolution, the letter magnets on his fridge seem to be:


    I used the anagram site at the BA Apollo Hoax page and found two pretty cool hidden messages.

    BAD ASTRONMY with CFLJE left out
    TANSTAFL, the immortal quote from Robert Heinlein’s, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”

    Phil are you in contact with the ghost of Robert A. Heinlien?

    Can anyone find any others?

  22. That picture was back when I had formica counters. :-)

  23. Cheryl

    But is it the REAL equinox or just mathematically figured – especially in the next 14 years!? Is anyone actually observing this or is it all just “figuring”?

  24. The times are calculated knowing the positions of the Earth and Sun, and the Naval Observatory is in the business of getting stuff like this right.

  25. icemith

    I have a question for Thomas Siefert who suggested in his post at 1050 am “There’s those who call it the first day of Fall”, are you referring to the other Hemisphere? If so I do not think any Downunder person refers to Autumn as Fall. Certainly not in Aust. or New Zealand at least.

    However it just may have been a play on words, with a dig at eggs that may not stand up at first attempt. The joke would have been more appropriate in six months time! But thanks Tom, I was a nice try.

    And another thing, I’ve noticed that some Bloggers never ( well hardly ever…) correct their spelling, and/or grammar which I feel is surprising for our little community, I do have another question, a multible choice in fact, ” Is the yoke of an egg white?” Or should it be, “Are the yoke of an egg white?”

    Ivan……… ( I couldn’t resist it.)

  26. Icesmith: OoOoOoooh, you got it! But you are wrong, there is downunder persons (of all sexes) calling it “fall”: Me!

    Proof reading is almost as important as the spelling, I was a nice try…. 😀

  27. Irishman

    Thomas Siefert – you have multiple sexes?

    icemith, the proper form would be, “Is the yolk of an egg white?” Yoke is what you put around oxen necks. Yolk is the yellow of an egg. And so the answer to the question is, “No.”

  28. Nigel Depledge

    If the equinox is the first day of spring for the northern hemisphere (which, by the way, it isn’t here in the UK – we don’t need an official first day of spring; seasonal terms refer more to weather than to anything else*), how come the solstices traditionally represent midsummer and midwinter?

    * In Britain, the coldest weather usually arrives in December, January and February, so those months are winter**. Similarly, the weather usually gets wet and windy, and then warmer and sunnier from March to May, which are spring. And so on, I guess you guys can wok the rest out.

    ** except the last couple of years, when March has been colder than December – must be an effect of global climate change and the reduction in the Gulf Stream or something.

  29. SFwriter

    Since it’s still so cold up here at 43°16′ N 79°54′ W it makes me think of Ogden Nash, the pithy poet…

    Spring is sprung,
    The grass is riz,
    I wonder where,
    the birdies is?

  30. icemith

    Aw Irishman, I couldn’t fool you, even with the extra sneeky ‘yoke’ spelling, which admittedly I didn’t notice, ( shame ).

    And Thomas, you is a Downunder person, is you? Can’t have gone to any school in Aust. of which I am aware. I grant at least American Samoa is definately in the Southern Hemisphere- not aware of any other country/region that would be US centric, but glad to have your support nevetheless. We Southerners have to keep the Northerners on their toes.

    Phil, I have long thought that the ‘official’ start of the season should be about four to six weeks after the equinox, due to the weather lag – though I wonder sometimes if it could be flexible. I guess it is in a way as various countries do have different start times. Here the season starts at the beginning of the month, some twenty-two days before the equinox, but at least it is consistent, and convenient, whether the weather is typical or not. I think it is more art than science.


  31. dre

    i’m just proud of the fact that i am like the BA in some small way: i have the same jumble of magnetic letters at the bottom of my refrigerator door, thanks to my 3-year-old.

  32. Thought I told you about the importance of proof reading icesmith, not that I practice it my self though :-)
    Have you ever heard of immigrants? I’m from Denmark and although I presently live in England, I still consider Australia my home. I have learned English from various sources, mainly The Simpsons, which would explain my US centric use of the language (also why I say: “DOH!” a lot).
    When I get back to Australia I will make it my mission to promote the use of the word “fall” instead of “autumn”, if I have time.

    Irishman: Didn’t you see “Priscilla, Queen of the desert”?

    I consider it spring when I can shed a layer of clothing, I’m not that concerned about being able to look it up in calender.

  33. icemith

    Ok ok, I’m sorry, I knew there had to be a reason. I just couldn’t think of all the possibilities, let alone list them all here. Or could I ?…….. nah, I wouldn’t dare, even in the interest of science.

    However thanks for being forthcoming, and I’m glad you are ‘ one of us ‘, and that should stir up a few others. Hey, and when is Denmark going to become the first European State of Australia? I’d vote for that.


  34. Oh no, we don’t want Denmark as an Australian state, our GST started out as 5% now it’s 25% not mention an income tax above 50%. Howard and other politicians might get ideas….

  35. icemith

    Tom, I’ve discovered your Blog – very neat, and I liked the post on Pavement Drawing, amazing. Re your comment about PM Howard, couldn’t agree more, but then he’s soon for the retired list. Viva le Republique with Fred and Mary as President(s).

    Getting back on topic, I have tried briefly to stand an egg on its end but no luck yet. But it will happen, as I amuse small shopkeepers by standing coins on edge while waiting to be served, sometimes doubling up. Have not been able to stand three up yet, that is one on top another. And these are round coins with milled edges, though with older coins, they are worn smooth.

    I challenge the Eggstanders to try at least doubling-up. I wonder if double-yolk eggs would make any difference? Matter of fact, I have not encountered any for a couple of years, I guess they have been GMed out!


    PS…. On reading again my first posting, end of second par, I found one missing letter, and I’m not surprised I dropped the letter ‘t’ as I gave up drinking it years ago and don’t miss it a bit, and only have coffee now once a month at the local Apple Computer Club meeting – SYDAMUG. Ivan.

  36. I too tried the egg thing, it took me a while but I succeeded. Now I will wait a few weeks and then try it again, just to prove the point that BA is trying to make.


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