Crocuses in full bloom at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London on 15 March 2010
Crocuses in full bloom at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London on 15 March 2010

Everything you need to know about the spring equinox

The Met Office explains the difference between meteorological spring and astronomical spring

Sabrina Barr,Katie O'Malley
Thursday 19 March 2020 15:01

Whether it’s a yellow sprinkling of daffodils lining your favourite park or turning down the thermostat on your heating, it’s clear that the vernal equinox – the signalling of the start of spring – has firmly arrived.

However, with changing and unpredictable temperatures it can be hard to decipher when winter ends and spring officially begins.

Here’s everything you need to know about the spring equinox:

When is spring?

Depending on which definition of spring you use, there are two different dates that mark the first day of the season.

According to the Met Office, Friday 1 March is the first day of the meteorological spring this year.

However, if you go by the astronomical definition of the seasons, the first day is marked on Wednesday 20 March.

What is the meteorological spring?

Meteorological seasons are based on splitting the seasons into four fixed periods, each made up of three months.

Spring Easter background with beautiful yellow daffodils

These seasons coincide with the Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely used civil calendar in the world and based on a 365-day common year divided into 12 months of irregular lengths.

Meteorological spring ends on Sunday 31 May this year, preceding summer which begins on Monday 1 June.

What is the astronomical spring?

The astronomical calendar determines the seasons depending on the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis in relation to its orbit around the sun.

Astronomical spring depends on the date of the spring equinox, also known as the vernal equinox and March equinox, which varies year-to-year.

The spring equinox consists of four days – two equinoxes and two solstices – during the year that mark the beginning of a new season. For the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox is the moment when winter ends and spring begins.

This year, the spring equinox falls in the early morning of Friday 20 March.

The astronomical spring will then last until the summer solstice, which this year lands on Saturday 20 June.

How do the equinoxes and solstices work?

The word “equinox” derives its name from the Latin term “eqi” which means “equal” and “nox” which means “night”.

According to the astronomical calendar, there are two equinoxes each year in March and September, when the day and night are approximately 12 hours each everywhere on Earth.

This happens when the celestial equator – an imaginary projection of the Earth’s equator onto the sky – is the closest part of the Earth to the sun.

Meanwhile, the world “solstice” comes from the Latin word “solstitium” meaning “sun stands still”.

The summer and winter solstices occur when the sun is at its furthest from the celestial equator.

Keep up to date with the UK’s weather here.

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