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September’s Autumnal Equinox and How a “Solstice” is Different

stonehenge_autumn_blog

The onset of autumn differs depending on whom you ask. For some, Labor Day marks the shift of seasons. For others, it’s when the dramatic harvest moon rises on the horizon.

But traditionally, fall begins promptly with the autumn equinox.

The equinox occurs twice a year. The vernal equinox happens around March 21, when the sun moves north across the celestial equator. The autumnal equinox occurs around September 22nd or 23rd, when the sun crosses the celestial equator going south.

The word equinox comes from Latin and means equality of night and day. Contrary to popular belief, the equinox doesn’t last for 24 hours. It occurs at two specific moments in time when the sun is exactly above the equator. In 2016, the Northern Hemisphere’s moment for the autumnal equinox is Thursday, September 22, at 14:21 UTC—that’s 10:21 a.m. in Boston, 7:21 a.m. in San Francisco, and 2:21 p.m. in Wiltshire, England, which is where Stonehenge is located.

If you want to be truly egalitarian, opt for saying March equinox and September equinox. These terms avoid the Northern Hemisphere bias that March is in the spring and September is in the autumn.

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.”

The equinox has inspired a number of false beliefs, including that the event causes a massive disruption of communication satellites, or that on the equinox an egg can effortlessly be balanced on its end.

Are there natural phenomena you’d like us to examine? Events, physical occurrences, holidays you’d like us to define and unwind? Let us know, right below. And all of Dictionary.com wishes you a happy autumn!

47 Comments

  1. HUSSEIN KAWALYA -  November 22, 2016 - 1:31 am

    I would like to know about the cause of earth quake, the stars i usually see moving in the sky are they air ships or?.

    Reply
  2. terri raymo -  September 23, 2016 - 9:57 pm

    I’ve been able to balance an egg. (For about a minute.)

    Reply
  3. April Gougeon -  January 15, 2014 - 2:06 pm

    I am curious as to the relationship between the zodiac signs and is there any connection to the soltice and/or equinox? (One of my children was born one day from March equinox & actually another was born only a few days after Septenber equinox)
    I only realized this after reading your article so thank you for that. Look forward to your response.
    P.S. I absolutely love this app. Its always full of fun and interesting facts.

    Reply
  4. Rosie Bee -  October 26, 2013 - 11:37 am

    This is the first time I’ve been on here and a few comments really made me laugh. Good job guys

    Reply
  5. Caleb lagos -  July 3, 2013 - 6:42 am

    how about the origins of Christmas and Easter

    Reply
  6. Steve Hynes -  September 22, 2011 - 8:17 am

    What a nice feature, well written at an engaging level. I have looked through a number of your “hot words”, and the consistency of treatment and invitation to explore are excellent. Thank you for this.

    Steve Hynes

    Reply
  7. Reiha -  September 21, 2011 - 11:16 pm

    Maybe you could research exactly how our memory works. I’ve read that it stores some stuff for long-term use, but just throws some stuff out, but I don’t think that’s true. I think probably your brain stores all your memories, you just can’t always recall them cause the pathways are broken, which is why people sometimes suddenly remember something that they couldn’t before, and why they can recall events when they’re under hypnosis even though they’ve supposedly forgotten.

    Reply
  8. GenterB -  June 21, 2011 - 7:51 am

    I’d like to read an article about the times of the year when the earth is the closest and farthest from the sun in its orbit thereof.

    Reply
  9. Tammy D -  December 29, 2010 - 8:37 pm

    23 days after you can really tell the difference in how much longer the days are compared to when it got light and dark on the Solstice. On the Solstice, seeing the sun farther North and the days getting longer, not so much.

    Reply
  10. Harish -  December 20, 2010 - 8:19 pm

    The Makara Sankranti originally marked the Winter Solstice. But now it is celebrated by the Indians 23 days later on Jan 14 ! And they call it Uttarayana, which means the “Northward Journey of the Sun” ! Now clealy the northward journey of the sun begins on the winter solstice, and thats why all pagans celebrated this increase of Light, whether they be Incans or Aztecs or Gaulish Druids. But Indians, the only surviving pagan culture celebrates it 23 days after!

    Reply
    • Smith -  September 27, 2016 - 4:32 am

      Doesn’t “pagan” simply refer to non-abrahamic religions? There is more than one surviving pagan culture, I’m sure.

      Reply
  11. Name? Doesn't matter -  September 24, 2010 - 8:50 am

    WOW!!!!!!!!!! This was such a good read i really enjoyed it. Thanks for bloging about it!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  12. skittlepop -  September 23, 2010 - 10:18 am

    I love the way the light from a full moon lights up the whole sky. I lay on the grass and could sit there FOREVER :)

    Reply
  13. bo -  September 23, 2010 - 6:44 am

    Why are the words anecdote and antidote so similar? My friend recently drank some poison and the 911 operator told me to give him an anecdote so I read him a humorous story and he died. If she had known the difference between those two words he would be alive and I wouldn’t be in prison.

    I wonder if the colored rain has anything to do with the polluted rivers in India from which the water evaporates to make the rain. Just a thought.

    Reply
  14. Lara Polansky -  September 23, 2010 - 6:21 am

    Speaking of harvest moons and equinoxes, what about a discussion on the meaning of the Jewish holiday, Sukkot?

    Reply
  15. EQUINOX | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 23, 2010 - 5:02 am

    [...] things being Equal — the “Equinox” makes some sense with the Sun crossing the Equator with celestial extravagance. — As we take [...]

    Reply
  16. Wendy -  September 23, 2010 - 2:00 am

    ..oh my bad,i should have post my comment on Sept. 21st blog…

    peace!

    Reply
  17. Wendy -  September 23, 2010 - 1:58 am

    Can’t wait to see Harvest moon here in the Philippines. It would be tonight! This is the first time i leave a comment here but i always read everyday’s blog of this site..☺

    and Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry, i’m a fan of yours.

    How about Storm moon next year? info please to when it will show up. Hopefully it would be on my birthday!

    cheers!

    Reply
  18. Random Confessions « MusEditions -  September 23, 2010 - 12:47 am

    [...] at Gregorian New Year; others in the Spring…to me, the fall is the best time, the time of the Autumnal New Year. I can look at what I’ve “harvested” over the past few months; evaluate [...]

    Reply
  19. Jack Cervantes -  September 22, 2010 - 7:29 pm

    Happy Autumn to you too Dictionary.com! =D

    Reply
  20. D -  September 22, 2010 - 6:27 pm

    Winter solstice is on December 21st, not December 22nd. December 21st is also Stalin’s birthday and to Gus, the day that the world is supposedly ending.

    Reply
  21. Faith -  September 22, 2010 - 5:50 pm

    what is the sunrise pretty or something?

    Reply
  22. Nathan -  September 22, 2010 - 5:22 pm

    @Ray: You’re kinda lucid today… :-)

    Reply
  23. dazjuan -  September 22, 2010 - 5:16 pm

    ikno this might sound funny but is that y the moon is a brownish color

    Reply
  24. arnaldo -  September 22, 2010 - 3:43 pm

    what is/was the big bang and what that means???

    Reply
  25. mark V -  September 22, 2010 - 3:24 pm

    if you can ‘repair’ something, was it ever ‘paired’ in the first place?

    Reply
    • Queen B -  September 23, 2016 - 9:34 pm

      Yes I believe it had a partner thus”paired” and became separated, and currently (like me) needs to be repaired, meaning put back together, fixed so as not broken anymore, or also matched with a partner again making two… Paired… Like gloves and socks and shoes…

      Reply
  26. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 2:20 pm

    P.S. And– What’s the relation of the words, HARBOR, and, ARBOR….

    In protolinguistics, HARBOR H’ARBOR is The-Arbor….

    Ray.

    Reply
  27. Nichole -  September 22, 2010 - 2:07 pm

    Why are obviously retarded people that use words like “dat” allowed to post on the internet?

    Why isn’t there an automatic spell checker for idiots on the net that slaps you in the face when you use horrible l33tspeak?

    Why does baby poop look like dijon mustard?

    Why does anyone care?

    Reply
  28. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 1:48 pm

    N.B. EQUINOX, means explicitly ‘equal night’, and only implicitly ‘to day’.

    N.B. Red rain was recently in the News as possibly a space-alien lifeform that thrives at 300° (It multiplies at such elevated temperatures)….

    N.B. Jack (Eng.) is Jacques (Fr.), John (Eng.) is Jean (Fr.), But, Neither is a nickname of the other, but that both are old-old slang for toilet…!

    But the question I’d have, is– how Greenwich got its name, “green harbor.”

    Ray.

    Reply
  29. Gus -  September 22, 2010 - 1:34 pm

    Is the world going to end on December 22, 2012, due to the equinox?

    Reply
    • Queen B -  September 23, 2016 - 9:35 pm

      Nope

      Reply
  30. João Henrique -  September 22, 2010 - 1:05 pm

    Things are gonna get hotter here in Brazil! :)) ‘Cause here it’s the beginning of Spring!!! At 12:09am BRT

    Reply
  31. Chickwn Finger -  September 22, 2010 - 12:58 pm

    I know there was an Orange rain and also a blue rain in Kerala state of India last year…any possible explanation?

    Reply
  32. Nathan -  September 22, 2010 - 12:03 pm

    @Other Nathan: Sure that isn’t acid rain… :-)

    Reply
  33. mark V -  September 22, 2010 - 11:57 am

    Theres a river in thailand that has fireballs shoot out of it, supposibly cause by a Naga living beneath the surface.

    Reply
  34. Mary -  September 22, 2010 - 11:53 am

    Why is Jack a commonly accepted nickname for John when the 2 names have the same number of letters and syllables?

    Reply
  35. LiL Jo$hu@ -  September 22, 2010 - 11:53 am

    cOLORED RAIN NA i dnt think that dat happened but i got to see it to believe it………..:) :) :) :) :) ;) :) :) :) ;) ;) :)

    Reply
  36. LiL Jo$hu@ -  September 22, 2010 - 11:52 am

    WHAT????????

    Reply
  37. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 11:23 am

    How about how many butterflies flapping in Brazil it takes on-the-average, to start a hurricane in the Pacific … Catastrophysicists say it takes a minimum of one, but what’s the average…?

    Ray.

    Reply
  38. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 11:19 am

    How about how close you have to live near to the equator before the toilet can’t decide which way to naturally spin the water when flushing…?

    And, is it true that toilets made for use in Australia are designed to spin the water the other way when flushing…?

    Ray.

    Reply
  39. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 11:17 am

    How about whether rainbows are seen on the transmission-side, not just the reflection side…?

    Ray.

    Reply
  40. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 22, 2010 - 11:13 am

    Equinox days-and-nights are what planet Earth would be like all-year-round if the poles were not tilted….

    Ray.

    Reply
  41. Nathan -  September 22, 2010 - 10:59 am

    How about colored rain in India. It’s freaky.

    Reply

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