Hey, Sky Fans! We’ll, we’ve done it! At about 6:30 A.M. EDT this morning, the direct rays of the sun, which have been creeping northward since December’s solstice, fell smack on the equator. At that moment, all around the world, Earth reached March’s equinox. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, we’ve finished winter. It’s hard to believe where I live, with tons of snow on the ground and temperatures in the low 40s, but, at least from an astronomical view, it’s true. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, you’ve squandered another summer and are heading into fall now.
From here, clear out until September’s equinox, the days in the north will be longer than the nights. Summer is just a couple of months away. It’s always one of those puzzling things I love to throw out at unsuspecting people around town. When we’re all happily contemplating cannonballs all being obsessive about s’mores, the days are actually getting shorter. I like my s’mores burnt.
The big equinox rumor is that day and night are equal on the first day of spring, but it’s not really true. Here, today, where I live, we’ll have 12 hours, 9 minutes of daylight. The equal-day-night day for us was this past Friday, St. Patrick’s day. This sort of thing varies all over the world, and there’s no one day when the sun rises and sets at the same time everywhere. If you’re tuning in from the equator, all of this is moot; sunrise and sunset are at the same time, and day and night are equal every day. What is the same everywhere, though, is the sun rose and will set due east everywhere on Earth.
The start of spring isn’t the only thing going on in the skies this week, though.
If you haven’t had a chance to look at the planet Venus shining bright in the west over the last few months, now’s your chance. It’ll be gone from the nights by next weekend, as it goes through what’s called inferior conjunction on Saturday the 25th. Inferior conjunction is the point when an object, in this case Venus, passes between two other objects, the sun and Earth. After that happens, Venus will leave the nights and wind up in the pre-dawn skies. Have a look to the west not long after sunset. If your eyes and skies are good, maybe, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to see it as a crescent with just your naked eye. That’d be cool. Binoculars will be great, too. Please try to check this out, especially if you can do it over a couple of nights. This is another great chance to see the solar system at work, happening at a human timescale.
We were expecting some snow yesterday, but it stayed away and the skies were clear. So, I was able to head out just after dusk with a pair of binoculars and could easily see it as a crescent smiling at me only about 26 million miles, less than a third of the distance to the sun. It was really a gorgeous sight, and I tried to get a photo of it, but could only muster an amorphous smudge. I wanted to come back out just before it set, to see it in darker skies but missed it. It’s dropping from the skies pretty fast these days.
So, instead of a shot of Venus, here’s a shot of this morning’s last quarter moon, the first moon of spring. I love seeing the moon’s waning phases. They’re backward and disorienting. On a gorgeous morning like we had here today, it was really a terrific sight. No one else stopped to look when I did, but I hope you had a chance to catch it over your neighborhood, too; the secret language of astronomy fans.
All of that, in one breath. More tomorrow, hopefully. Clear skies, everyone!