Vernal Equinox: The first day of spring in Alaska

March equinox has a great significance here at 64 degrees of latitude where our winter days can be just under 4 hours and colder than minus 40 degrees. Winter’s cold grip has loosened over the previous weeks with lengthening day, the return to Alaska Standard Time, and more comfortable temperatures; the equinox is the gateway to the midnight sun. Though we welcome this milestone, it does not provoke people to build huge bonfires and do pagan dances like at winter solstice, rather, it’s a quiet rebirth. It is also an incredible time of year for northern lights watching (photos)!

The Vernal Equinox is the first day spring. The term equinox gets it’s meaning from the Latin and means equal night. The idea of even day and night length was derived closer to the equator but those of us that live further north or south of the equator know full well that length of day on equinoxes is not quite even.

vernal-equinox

But why is the day length not uniform worldwide on equinox?

why is daylength not equal on equinox

Equinox occurs when the sun crosses the celestial equator. If you look at the illustration above, you can see that it is not actually the same as the ecliptic equator.

The actual day length in Fairbanks, Alaska on vernal equinox is:

Duration = 12 Hours 18 Mins 36 Secs

Sunrise = 07:49:49Day
Sunset = 20:08:25

Today’s equinox occurs at 11:02 UT (3:02 AM AKST/ 7AM EST ). Using this map below it’s easy to determine when equinox happens in your land.

expanded-world-time-zone-map-longitude

Finally, I don’t want to leave out our friends in the southern hemisphere. Today is the autumnal or fall equinox in the southern hemisphere. While we celebrate rebirth in the northern hemisphere our friends in the southern hemisphere watch the leaves fall from the trees and prepare for winter. In my search for images to illustrate this post I learned that the sciencey people who are in with the astronomy crowd refer to today’s equinox as “March Equinox” rather than “vernal” or “autumnal” as to keep the terminology universal.

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More posts that may interest you….

At the equator day length is nearly always equal to night. Find out more about visiting the equator!

Want to do a Northern Lights tour (Aurora borealis)?

Learn more about Alaska Wildlife?

Northern lights tours, fairbanks Alaska

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover …”

-Mark Twain

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29 thoughts on “Vernal Equinox: The first day of spring in Alaska

  1. I love travel, nature, geography and learning. This was the perfect stop. Thank you for the easy to understand explanation about what so few of us that live on the mainland understand in such detail. i heard about you from a list that our names share ‘This Week My Blog About Your Blog’. I took special pride in just being included, and now that i am meeting each of you, it is now tenfold.

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    • Wow. That’s great. I am glad you found it. Please feel free to come back and share a link to the blog where you found me. I am also really humbled and honored that you find my site of use. It has been an interesting path developing this blog. Cheers, Mike

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    • I spoke with somone in Montana this morning and she asked how our weather was. I said “Its spring, its awesome”. She said that spring was just arriving there and it was raining and I told her it was 10 below but its sunny 12 hours a day. Spring in Alaska!

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  2. Thank you for this dramatic and poetic evocation of something I never considered — spring in Alaska. My favorite line is “the vernal equinox is the gateway to the midnight sun.” We’ve had a proto-Alaskan winter this year in New Jersey — only now, toward the end of March, is the first skunk cabbage being reported. People are hearing, though not yet seeing, red-winged blackbirds. When the sun goes under, which seems more frequent now (climate change?), it still feels like November. I look forward to following your blog, and thank you for your comment on Birding the Brig in NJWILDBEAUTY, which is just beginning, like spring…

    Carolyn Foote Edelmann

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  3. I’d love the northern lights where you are – they’re pretty poor here and rarely seen. We nearly get a midnight sun in mid-winter in the northernmost Scottish islands where I used to live – but more of a horizonal glow than an actual sun. I’d find the cold of your winters too hard to bear though – I’m a warm-country person (or at least, I’d like to be!),
    Carol.

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