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Equinoxes and solstices

Today’s the first day of Fall, my favorite season of the year. The autumnal equinox will be hitting us overnight. What’s the difference between an equinox and a solstice?

The word “equinox” comes from Latin and means “equality of night and day.” Contrary to popular belief, the equinox does not last for 24 hours. It occurs at two specific moments in time when the sun is exactly above the equator. This year, that moment is at September 23rd, 3:09 A.M., Greenwich Mean Time.

The equinox is often confused with the solstice, which is either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The solstice occurs around June 21 and December 22. Solstice derives from the Latin solstitium, which literally means “the standing still of the sun.”

So that’s that. A solstice marks a period of time — which can last for hours or days — when the sun is farthest from the celestial equator. We get two solstices per year: one in Summer, the other in Winter. An equinox is a specific moment of the calendar year when the sun is directly above the equator. We get two equinoxes per year: one at the onset of Spring, the other at the beginning of Fall.

“Fall officially starts today in Los Angeles. Time to put away my shorts and break out my slightly thicker shorts.”
— Conan O’Brien

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