Is It Spring Yet ???

by

Marlene Smith

April, 2005

 

Past Columns

December 2004

January 2005

February 2005

 

 


March 20th is the date on our calendar when we welcome Spring, but it seems this Winter just wants to keep hanging on. I keep looking outside and thinking, the calendar says it’s Spring...yet, I pull on my Winter coat and scrape the ice off the windshield yet again. I can’t believe Spring will ever get here, never mind Summer. Of course, I shouldn’t complain, people south of the equator are actually gearing up for the cooler temperatures of Autumn!

Of course, March 20th is not just an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons (March 21 in some years), but a significant astronomical event. On March 20, 2005, at precisely 7:34 a.m. EST (12:33 Universal Time), the Sun crossed directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, this is the moment of the autumnal equinox.

Translated literally, equinox means "equal night." Because the sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. A second equinox occurs each year on September 22 or 23; in 2005, it will be on September 22 at 6:23 p.m. EDT (22:23 UT). This date will mark the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the vernal equinox in the Southern (vernal denotes "spring").

These brief but monumental moments owe their significance to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Because of the tilt, we receive the Sun's rays most directly in the summer. In the winter, when we are tilted away from the Sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons.

Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the vernal equinox for thousands of years. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. Many early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored. The date is significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox.

Of course, motorcyclists celebrate the change of seasons in a differently... we get out and RIDE! Now, I am not including our hearty Polar Bear group, who ignore the Earth’s rotation and the slant of the Earth’s axis, and the bitter cold temperatures that we’ve been experiencing for what seems like forever.

There are plenty of riders that have been waiting for the weather to break to simply get out and feel the rumble of the motor, the joy of taking a curvy road for the first time in many months. Smelling the first flowers starting to bloom and hearing the birds chirping ... letting us know that the warmer weather is just around the corner!

"Greetings on this most exceedingly beautiful spring morning. A morning swollen with new life, a morning on which, if I had the voice, I would let loose with song. It's hard to believe just a few short weeks ago we were eating our cornflakes in the wintry dark. Now, well it's still kind of dim out there, but I can see the golden glow of Apollo's chariot waiting in the wings, about to make its entrance. Winter's on the lam, no doubt. " Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider (1992), Northern Exposure, Wake Up Call, 1992

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