Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Equinox can have two meanings:
The moment when the Sun is positioned directly over the Earth's equator and, by extension, the apparent position of the Sun at that moment - see below.
A moment in time at which the vernal point, celestial equator, and other such elements are taken to be used in the definition of a celestial coordinate system - see Equinox (celestial coordinates)

An equinox in astronomy is that moment in time (not a whole day) when the center of the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 23 each year.
At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points the vernal point and the autumnal point.

There is either an equinox (autumn and spring) or a solstice (summer and winter) on approximately the 21st day of the last month of every quarter of the calendar year. On a day which has an equinox, the center of the Sun will spend a nearly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth and night and day will be of nearly the same length. In reality, the day is longer than the night at an equinox. Commonly the day is defined as the period that sunlight reaches the ground in the absence of local obstacles.

From Earth, the Sun appears as a disc and not a single point of light; so, when the center of the Sun is below the horizon, the upper edge is visible. Furthermore, the atmosphere refracts light, so, even when the upper limb of the Sun is below the horizon, its rays reach over the horizon to the ground. In sunrise/sunset tables, the assumed semi-diameter (apparent radius) of the sun is 16 minutes of arc and the assumed refraction is 34 minutes of arc. Their combination means that when the upper limb of Sun is on the visible horizon its center is 50 minutes of arc below the geometric horizon, which is the intersection with the celestial sphere of a horizontal plane through the eye of the observer. These effects together make the day about 14 minutes longer than the night at the equator, and longer still at sites toward the poles. The real equality of day and night only happens at places far enough from the equator to have at least a seasonal difference in day length of 7 minutes and occurs a few days towards the winter side of each equinox.