Tag: eggs

Sweeping away equinox silliness

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2012 10:03 am

Tonight’s the equinox! Yay!

The timing of this is a bit funny. It’s actually March 20 at 05:14 UTC, so it’s 01:14 for eastern US folks, but actually on March 19 at 11:14 p.m. for us Mountain Timers. So I’m posting this now to make sure everyone gets a chance to see it.

Outside of astronomy, the equinox isn’t that big of a deal. There are lots of ways of looking at it, but perhaps the easiest is to say that it’s when the Sun rises due east and sets due west. It also means day and night are the same length, but that gets complicated: the Earth’s air bends the light from the Sun so that we see it before it physically rises over the horizon and can still see it after it physically sets, adding a couple of minutes to the length of daylight. Another way to think of the equinox is that it’s when the center of the Sun’s disk is at the point on the sky where the Ecliptic (the path of the Sun on the sky over the year) intersects the Celestial Equator (the Earth’s equator projected onto the sky).

I explain all this stuff in various earlier posts I’ve made on the equinoctes (which is the correct plural of equinox, it turns out). See Related Posts below.

One thing the equinox does not not NOT NOT mean is that you can balance ungainly objects on their ends on this day! This used to mean egg standing — more on that in a sec — but for reasons beyond my ability to parse the newest version of this involves standing brooms on their bristles. Don’t believe me? Here’s a gallery of people doing it. I’ve been hearing a lot about this, but it has nothing to do with the equinox (or the recent solar activity, another odd idea that’s going around). It’s actually a simply matter of center of mass and flat bristles. Honestly, it’s not more mysterious than standing a brick up. Here’s a good video explanation of it.

The picture above of the broom standing? That was taken on October 27, 2009. So there ya go. Also, you can try this: if you have a broom you can stand today, wait a week and try again. It’ll stand then, too, if you try hard enough.

If you replace the word "broom" with "egg" then we’ve heard this all before. It’s not hard to find more, too.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this: how to stand an egg on end, equinox or equinot:

Image credit: Puuikibeach’s Flickr photostream, used under Creative Commons license.

Related Posts:

Happy first day of spring… Mars!
Today’s the vernal equinox!
It’s the eggquinox!
How to stand an egg on end
Infernal equinox

Today's the vernal equinox!

By Phil Plait | March 20, 2011 7:00 am

Today, at 23:21 UT (19:21 p.m. Eastern US time), the Sun’s odometer resets, and it once again finds itself at the celestial coordinates of 0h0m0s Right Ascension, 0°0m0s declination.

Or, in other words, it’s the vernal equinox!

A lot of folks will say this is the first day of spring. I think it makes more sense to call this the mid-point of spring — as do many countries — but I’m less inclined to argue about it as much as I used to. What the heck; it’s getting warmer in the northern hemisphere after quite a long and adventurous winter, and I went biking in the sunshine yesterday. It’s sure starting to feel like spring. Good enough for me!

In real terms, the equinox means a few things, too:

  • Day and night are about the same length (12 hours each)… although the Earth’s non-circular orbit and atmospheric distortion mess that up a bit.
  • The Sun rises pretty much due east and sets due west.
  • In the northern hemisphere the length of daylight is increasing the fastest. That sounds funny, but it’s not too hard to understand. In the northern hemisphere, just after the winter solstice, daytime starts getting longer. But the difference day-to-day is small; one day may only be a few seconds longer than the day before. At the equinox (today!) that difference can be several minutes from one day to the next. The amount each day is longer is itself getting bigger every day from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. After today it slows down, and near the summer solstice in June each day will only be a few seconds longer than the one before it… and then the whole thing reverses. Speaking of which, reverse all that for the southern hemisphere. And again, the Earth’s elliptical orbit complicates things, but hey, close enough.
  • And finally, it means you can stand an egg on end… as you can do any day of the year. Here’s proof!

So, what are you going to do with your equinox?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

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