It's the eggquinox!

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2009 9:00 pm

The vernal equinox hits the Earth at 11:44 UT (07:44 Eastern US time) Friday, March 20th! What that means to most people is that it’s the first day of spring (or fall in the southern hemisphere), but they’re wrong.

What it means in real life is that there is very roughly equal amounts of daytime and nighttime (the word equinox means "equal night"); it’s not exact due to the Earth’s atmosphere, but that’s neither here nor there.

For astronomers, it means the center of the Sun has 0° declination, and it crosses from the southern celestial hemisphere into the northern one.

For NASA, it means they can celebrate Sun-Earth day.

And for some people, it means it’s the only time they can stand an egg on its end. They’re wrong too:

For me, it means an easy blog post for the day. So happy equinox!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (48)

  1. Kevin

    Phil Phil Phil.

    How can we believe this? It’s obviously an edited video. What went on behind the scenes when the placecards were used, eh? :)

    I remember a friend of mine had to convince a local meteorologist of the VEEF (Vernal Equinox Egg-Standing Folly) by standing 18 eggs on end in the middle of August, way back in the late 1980’s.

  2. IVAN3MAN

    Phil Plait:

    The vernal equinox hits the Earth at 11:44 UT (07:44 Eastern US time) Friday, March 20th! What that means to most people is that it’s the first day of spring (or fall in the southern hemisphere), but they’re wrong.

    Not “fall”, autumnautumn! Oh, what’s the use of trying to educate bloody Americans! :roll:

  3. Ivan3man, you beat me to it. ;-)

    It most certainly is not “fall” in this part of the Southern hemisphere. It’s a nice proper autumn. ^_^

  4. Uh, what the hell?? I know you probably have nothing to do with Google’s ad placements, but there’s one of those 2012 “comet will destroy all life” websites advertising to the right of the video if you go to Youtube and play it from there. Way to go Google, lousing up a perfectly good woo-debunking.

    Hilariously, the site it links to tries to shill a $3 fridge magnet with the 2012 calendar, but all the dates after December 21 are still intact.

  5. IVAN3MAN

    @ Jason Thibeault,

    I don’t know why, but I find that IE7 blocks all those annoying adverts; whereas Firefox 3.0.6 does not. However, it’s just as annoying, if not more, when IE7 decides to have ‘one of its turns’! :|

  6. Brian

    I read that article on the equinoxes and solstices actually being the midpoint of the seasons, but I don’t get it. All you’re doing is replacing one arbitrary standard with another. If we’re ignoring weather, why not have the seasons start when they currently do? You don’t really say why your alternative is better, only that you feel better about it. That’s not a basis for anything and you know it. And now you’ve made the leap to saying that saying the vernal equinox is the start of Spring is wrong, which is even more silly. I believe you’re being tongue-in-cheek, but it makes you look dumb and arrogant.

  7. Wendy

    I can’t stand an egg on its end on ANY day of the year… :(

  8. hmm… you don’t seem to accept comments on your other site Phil – so here’s a few thoughts about the seasons and when they start:

    I think the better authority on definition are meteorologists than physicists, as seasons are more of a phenomenon of climate and weather than celestial alignment (although the former are driven by the latter).

    The point of the seasons are that historically they specify periods of time where the weather and climate are in decline (Autumn), hibernation (Winter), renewal (Spring), or growth (Summer). Seasons were not equal in length – which is why midsummer is in late July (summer weather, at least in Northern Europe, starts in around mid-May, and can extend into mid-September). The fact that Midsummer’s Eve is now on the solstice is probably due to modern tampering of a more ancient reckoning (which is not entirely unheard of).

    There is also the point to be made that the northern seasons are quite useless in other parts of the world – the Egyptians had Inundation (the flood), Growing and Harvest. India pretty much had winter, summer and monsoon – although they have change to a 4-season pattern.

    Even now, more tampering with the start of seasons take place – with Winter starting on the 1st of January (for record keeping convenience):

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/guide/effects/seasons.html

    To be honest – I think the non-scientific labels for Summer as being the good growing season from May to September, was much better than any regularised system we have now.

  9. endeavour

    In my part of the Southern Hemisphere, Autumn (thank you IVAN3MAN and Raphael Fraser) officially begins on March 1, not the equinox anyway. In fact, all our seasons are held to begin on the first of the relevant month, not on the solstice or equinox.

    And until I started visiting skeptical websites, I’d never heard the thing about standing an egg on its end at the equinox, so I assume that it must be a Northern Hemisphere (or maybe even US-specific?) superstition.

  10. I’m with Kevin. You can’t expect us to believe that you did that without any other means of support? Especially since your friends, Penn and Teller explained how to do it using salt in _How to Play With Your Food_.

  11. Nentuaby

    Not “fall”, autumn… autumn! Oh, what’s the use of trying to educate bloody Americans! :roll:

    I really hope you were joking. WHY must every anglophone on the planet persist in this demented insistence that his particular dialect is objectively correct and every other one is wrong, as if there were One True English which flowed from the pen of God? And if there were such an ur-dialect, how does each one become convinced that it is their own, when each dialect is temporal as well as geographical, and none more than a couple of hundred years old?

    </rant>

  12. John

    Endeavour, you just beat me to it! Starting the seasons on the first of the month makes the seasons line up better with the weather, and it’s easier to remember. US-ians are the only people I know of that talk about seasons starting on equinoxes, and balancing eggs (and groundhogs!)

  13. Pouria

    I’d like to also point out this marks the Persian new year, held in celebration that the days get longer than the nights.

    /P

  14. Murdats

    @Nentuaby

    well considering that everywhere but 1 english speaking country calls it autumn I would say if we go by vast majority vote then its called autumn.

    also for all the places where it has become autumn it is called autumn not fall

    also that is quite an overreaction there.

    @Brian
    the seasons are determined by which half of the earth is currently facing/closest to the sun, the equinoxes are when that changes so the season causing system has then changed state, not at all arbitrary.

  15. jf

    @IVAN3MAN, @Jason Thibeault

    To suppress adverts and malware, for Firefox there are easily installable add-ons:
    Adblock Plus
    NoScript

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Hm?! Spring here is defined as a week (7 days) with temperatures over 0 Celsius. I.e. it is a meteorological spring definition. Swedes are a weather obsessed people, sun worshipers in (readily dropped) guise really.

    [Used to be 5 days but apparently increased due to less noise, i.e. public experience of back-and-forth. Though actually SMHI, the Swedish Meteorological & Hydrological Institute, publishes two definitions. I think the other one, “when daily mean temperatures are rising and between 0 and 10 Celsius”, is averaged and used for short term climate maps.]

    Spring was declared as of last week in regards of Uppsala, YAY!

    [Faces towards the newly sprung spring sun. – AAAaahh…!!!]

    I can’t stand an egg on its end on ANY day

    I can’t stand an egg, any position, ANY time.

    They do make good pancakes though.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Regards to”, send ‘em already will ya’.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Btw, when will we get that Preview?

    [It’s not like we ask for Perv-view, mind you.]

  19. Pieter Kok

    ivan3man, do you use adblock plus in FF? People always go on about these ironically placed ads, but I never see them because I use adblock plus.

  20. IVAN3MAN

    Pieter Kok, er… no, I don’t use “adblock plus”. Actually, I wasn’t aware of it until now. Silly me! :|

  21. BigLee

    After reading your book ‘Bad Astronomy’ I immediately rushed to the kitchen and (with the help of my brainiac daughter) stood 8 out of 12 eggs on their ends… and this was mid January. She was so impressed she went back to her school science club and they spent an evening balancing eggs on end and discussing the science behind it.

  22. On the subject of the seasons, I’m glad to see that today’s Astronomy Picture Of the Day (click on my name for the link) has stated the correct terminology for autumn. So, NASA is one of the more enlightened organizations amongst Americans!

  23. QUASAR

    That egg thing is such an old trick!

  24. Yeah, I think it makes most sense for spring to be locally, and meteorologically, defined. Then places where it’s irrelevant (e.g., with a wet season and a dry season dominating the climate) can ignore it.

    And putting the ‘wrongness’ of a particular definition in the same apparent category as the wrongness of egg-standing invites confusion, I think.

  25. You make reference to 2012 in the video…. Do you think we’ll be able to stand an egg on its end during the Apocalypse?

  26. Alan

    A few easters ago, I created the “Egguinox” for egg-rolling…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/barc0de/129363214/in/set-72057594108336573/

  27. Amy F.

    Technically, the vernal equinox is when the apparent ecliptic longitude of the Sun is 0°. I’m required by the Naval Observatory to say that. :)

    My best friend, who works at a TV station, did an on-air graphic about the equinox with an egg standing on end. This, despite the fact that he knows its a myth. I’m officially ashamed of him.

  28. Heh. I was midway through MY annual blog post about the equinox and the egg stuff and came over here to hunt down Phil’s famous egg movie and here he is already talking about it and the comments section alive in discussion! So, our jobs are done. We should have an annual “Egg-balancing Theory sucks Carnival of Blog Posts” or something. ;)

    NCC1701, I think in 2012, all eggs will magically flip to their sides and point their blunt ends toward the center of the galaxy. If you see that show up on some woo-woo blog post somewhere, I’ll have started an Internet Meme.

    ;)

  29. Boozehound

    I’ll drink to eggquinox by raising my glass of alcoholic eggnog! ;-)

    Cheers! Scholl! Kampei! :-D

    Start of seasons are start of months where I come from –

    ie.

    March 1st starts Autumn / Fall,
    June 1st starts Winter,
    September 1st starts Spring,
    December 1st starts Summer

    Fortunately all seasons last three months which sur ebeats theseason length on Helliconia! ;-)

    (Good SF series by Brian Aldiss, ‘Helliconia’ is a fictional planet where seasons last centuries.)

  30. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Well, see, it’s “fall” because that’s the time of year that leaves fall from the trees.

    And really, you shouldn’t even be calling it autumn, anyway. Where the British went wrong was in the 16th century when they stopped using the term “harvest” and started using a word from Latin/French:

    autumn
    c.1374, from O.Fr. autumpne, from L. autumnus, a word probably of Etruscan origin. Harvest was the Eng. name for the season until autumn began to displace it 16c. In Britain, the season is popularly August through October; in U.S., September through November.
    Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

    Furthermore, “fall” has been in use since the 17th century and is a shortened form:

    fall (v.)
    O.E. feallan (class VII strong verb; past tense feoll, pp. feallen), from P.Gmc. *fallanan (cf. O.N. falla, O.H.G. fallan), from PIE base *phol- “to fall” (cf. Armenian p’ul “downfall,” Lith. puola “to fall,” O.Prus. aupallai “finds,” lit. “falls upon”). Noun sense of “autumn” (now only in U.S.) is 1664, short for fall of the leaf (1545). That of “cascade, waterfall” is from 1579. Most of the figurative senses had developed in M.E. Meaning “to be reduced” (as temperature) is from 1658. To fall in love is attested from 1530; to fall asleep is 1393. Fall guy is from 1906. Fallout “radioactive particles” is from 1950. Fallen “morally ruined” is from 1628.
    Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

    Further, it could be argued that “fall” is used because it is the time of the year that temperatures begin to fall, as well. And I’m sure a religious type could probably cobble together an argument that it was the time of year when Lucifer fell from Heaven. Or that it marks the beginning of the “fall of man” or some such argument. Y’know, the introduction of death and all.

  31. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    And really, since “fall” began its usage in England, we of the U.S. are actually more proper in our choice of term than the Brits. :P

  32. Maybe we could stand brightly-colored eggs on end. Need to figure out some way to work chocolate rabbits and marshmallow chicks into the celebration too.

  33. JeffS

    Most intersting to me is: “For astronomers, it means the center of the Sun has 0° declination, and it crosses from the southern celestial hemisphere into the northern one.”

    Otherwise, strange comment thread……
    Later this year I envision “Fall Pride Day” which will be vehemently protested by the “Fundamental Autumn Movement”.

    Just enjoy the day and beginning season…and get back to work like I should be doing! :-)

  34. Old Muley

    I live in Wisconsin- winter starts here in October and runs through the middle of April…

  35. mike

    You forgot something.

    The [i]vernal[/i] equinox is when the sidereal time is equal to the civil time.

    That’s important for us telescope pointers.

  36. We’re about to move someplace this year that prides itself on having six seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter, more winter, and mud season.

  37. Todd W.

    @ccpetersen

    What about “Road Construction Season”?

  38. Todd, yeah,that’s right after Mud Season

  39. Cheyenne

    @ Ivan- Regarding the English usage-I say you lot made up the language and your accent is just so much cooler than the American one. So what you say laguage-wise should be the rule.

    Brits over here are fawned over with that accent. Us over there – yeah, not so much.

  40. IVAN3MAN

    @ jf,

    Thanks for the links, man. :-)

    @ Todd W.,

    It’s “The Fall of Man” business and its religious connotations that gets me started! I mentioned that already last autumn on a similar post by Phil. :|

    @ Cheyenne,

    Actually, according to Wikipedia, English is a West Germanic language that was brought to Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers beginning in the 5th century. The language was heavily influenced by the Old Norse language of Viking invaders. After the Norman conquest, Old English developed into Middle English, borrowing heavily from the Norman (Anglo-French) vocabulary and spelling conventions. Modern English developed from there and continues to adopt foreign words, especially from Latin and Greek.

    So, the English language is like a symphony of various languages — until the likes of George W. Bush comes along and starts to play out of tune with terms such as “misunderestimate(d)”! :roll:

  41. Turing Eret

    Regarding the definition of seasons, it seems that there is a completely objective definition that makes perfect sense. Summer is the quarter with the greatest insolation and winter is the quarter with the least insolation. Of course, this is more or less what you said. The cross-quarter days are the boundaries of seasons and the solstices/equinoctes are the midpoints, hence the term “midsummer” and “midwinter” being used to refer to the solstices.

  42. Davidlpf

    Still a foot of snow everywhere here.

  43. I’m sure everybody remembers the Italian architect during the 1400s or so, who won a competition to design some enormous building by showing that he could stand an egg on end. He suceeded where all the others failed by taking the trouble to hard-boil it first. Then all you have to do is plunk it down on end.

    Today is also Persian New Years Day. Which makes a heck of a lot more sense to me than the middle of winter.

    “… until the likes of George W. Bush comes along and starts to play out of tune with terms such as “misunderestimate(d)”!

    Yeah, but at least GWB can talk for more than 30 seconds without a teleprompter. And he certainly wouldn’t have made that bolwing crack about the Special Olympics. Yep, our new guy is one heck of an orator.

  44. MooNMaN

    No matter what you call it, or what time it is . . . I watched the video, got some eggs from the fridge, and, I kid you not: I had the first one standing in 3 seconds!! Too easy! Tried another one, that took 1 minute. ‘ nuff said.

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