Scientists Say: Equinox and Solstice
Equinoxes and solstices mark the start of Earth’s seasons
Equinox (noun, “EEK-win-ox”) and Solstice (noun, “SOUL-stiss”)
An equinox is a time of year when the amount of daytime and nighttime hours per day are about equal. On Earth, we experience two equinoxes each year. One equinox happens around March 20 or 21. It marks the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. And it marks the start of fall in the southern hemisphere. The other equinox falls around September 22 or 23. It marks the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere. And it marks the start of spring in the southern hemisphere.
The solstices are the two times a year with the most or least amount of daylight per day. One solstice happens around June 21. It marks the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. And it marks the start of winter in the southern hemisphere. The other solstice happens around December 21 or 22. It marks the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. And it marks the start of summer in the southern hemisphere.
Earth has equinoxes and solstices for the same reason it has different seasons. Earth is tilted relative to the sun. So, over the course of a year, the northern and southern hemispheres take turns facing the sun more directly. The two equinoxes and two solstices each year mark the start of the four seasons.
Let’s look at the northern hemisphere. At the June solstice, the Earth’s northern hemisphere is most directly facing the sun. So, this hemisphere spends a maximum number of hours per day bathed in very direct sunlight. The result is long, warm summer days. At the December solstice, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. So, that hemisphere gets less direct sunlight and spends more hours per day in darkness. This results in long, cold winter nights. At the equinoxes, the northern hemisphere is not pointed toward or away from the sun. The result is medium amounts of daylight and mild spring and autumn temps.
In a sentence
Stonehenge’s stones align with the sun during each solstice, though the ancient monument’s exact purpose remains a mystery.
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