Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All things being equal, the sun can be mean, but it does have its ups and downs.

Today or tomorrow (depending on where you live) is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere and, I suppose, the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere. It occurs at 11:09 p.m., September 22nd, in the U.S. Eastern Time Zone, which is already September 23rd in most of the rest of the world.

For your cultural enrichment and equinoctial reading pleasure, here are some little-known facts. Note that I do not call them trivia:

* The traditional East Asian calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms (节气, literally “climatic segments”), and the vernal equinox (Chūnfēn, Chinese and Japanese: 春分; Korean: 춘분; Vietnamese: Xuân phân) and the autumnal equinox (Qiūfēn, Chinese and Japanese: 秋分; Korean: 추분; Vietnamese: Thu phân) mark the middle of the spring and autumn seasons, respectively. In this context, the Chinese character 分 means “(equal) division” (within a season).

* In Japan, (March) Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日 Shunbun no hi) is an official national holiday, and is spent visiting family graves and holding family reunions. Similarly, in September, there is an Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日 Shūbun no hi).

* Wiccans and many other Neopagans hold religious celebrations of “Ostara” on the spring equinox, and “Mabon” on the autumnal equinox.

* The September equinox marks the first day of Mehr or Libra in the Iranian calendar. It is one of the Iranian festivals called Jashne Mihragan, or the festival of sharing or love in Zoroastrianism.

* In Korea, Chuseok is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday celebrated around the Autumn Equinox.

* The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, oftentimes near the autumnal equinox day, and is an official holiday in China and in many countries with a significant Chinese minority. As the lunar calendar is not synchronous with the Gregorian calendar, this date could be anywhere from mid-September to early October.

* The traditional harvest festival in the United Kingdom was celebrated on the Sunday of the full moon closest to the September equinox.

* The September equinox was “New Year’s Day” in the French Republican Calendar, which was in use from 1793 to 1805. The French First Republic was proclaimed and the French monarchy was abolished on September 21, 1792, making the following day (the equinox day that year) the first day of the “Republican Era” in France. The start of every year was to be determined by astronomical calculations following the real Sun and not the mean Sun.

Thank you, Wikipedia. After reading all of that, I feel like going off on a tangent, so I will, in a manner of speaking.

Here, from 1931, is Ruth Etting, star of stage and the silver screen, singing “Shine On, Harvest Moon.”

Finally, here is your science lesson for today. We all know that the moon does not shine at all; it just reflects sunlight. But if this is the earth (and it is):

and the little boy in the picture below represents where the sun is directly overhead at noon on the first day of autumn, that is, the Tropic of Capricorn, and the little girl represents where the sun is directly overhead at noon on the first day of spring, that is, the Tropic of Cancer, then the seesaw, if it were horizontal, would represent the equator, and the children would represent the first day of summer and the first day of winter.

Aren’t you glad I cleared that up?


  1. Equinox was a thrash metal band from Fredrikstad, Norway that started in 1987. The initial band members were Grim Stene (guitar/vocals), Ragnar 'Raggen' Westin (drums) and Skule Stene (bass guitar) who were all ex-Rebellion members. In 1988 Tommy Skarning joined as a second guitarist. On the Labyrinth album Tommy was no longer with the band, and Raggen was exchanged with Jørn Wangsholm. The band broke up in 1995.

  2. ...and Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn are both titles of novels by Henry Miller.

  3. Sorry Robert, I don't get the children and the seesaw thing. But I do get the seasons.

    Off the topic a bit; a weird thing happened two days ago, that has only happened one other time during the 16 years I've been in this house... it was a rather chilly spring day and I was struggling to warm up the kitchen where I work, when a warm front came through so quickly that all the windows steamed up...on the outside!

  4. The see-saw seems to be going the wrong way to me - Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer are not at either end of the Equator but parallel to it as far as I understand.

  5. Lady, I'm sorry I gave you a headache. But at least you are laughing out loud.

    Katherine, I guess I'm unobservant, but I could not tell you whether my windows steam up on the inside or the outside.

    Helsie, I never said the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are at either end of the equator. But I can see where I confused you. In the photo the little boy represents the sun's direct rays lowest point on earth (AT the Tropic of Cancer) and the little girl represents the sun's direct rays highest point on earth (AT the Tropic of Capricorn). In the photo, the angle of the seesaw does not represent the equator; it represents the movement of the sun's direct rays during the year from southernmost point to northernmost point. But in my hypothetical, once the seesaw starts moving, it no longer represents that at all, and the children never represented the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn anyway. When the seesaw gets to the horizontal position, THEN it represents the equator and the children represent, as before, THE POSITION OF THE SUN'S DIRECT RAYS ON THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER AND THE FIRST DAY OF WINTER; that is, ON THE EQUATOR.

    I thought I was being perfectly clear, but obviously I wasn't.

    Sorry for shouting.

  6. Oops, I got those tropics backward when speaking of the little boy and the little girl, I think.

  7. To further complicate/uncomplicate matters, I should probably not have said "sun's direct rays." I should have said "sun appearing directly overhead at its zenith (noon)"...

  8. Oh, and to determine wether the windows are steamed up on the outside or the inside you could run your finger over the window. If it leaves a trail, thát is the side the 'steam' is on. Nifty trick.

  9. I'm sure it's not weather (the number of comments will make you look incredibly popular)

  10. Carolina, much obliged. We're now up to 14 comments.

  11. Thanks for reminding me how close to the dastardly season of winter we are, Rhymes.

    I was attracted to Wiicanism because of it's season-based observances and it's earth-based spirituality. Then I discovered that Wiccans generally take the existence of their gods quite literally, practice tarot and astrology, and hold the female superior to the male.