(CNN) — Twice a year, everyone on Earth is seemingly on equal footing — at least when it comes to the distribution of light and dark.
On Tuesday, we enter our second and final equinox of 2020. If you reside in the Northern Hemisphere, you know it as the fall equinox (or autumnal equinox). For people south of the equator, this equinox actually signals the coming of spring.Folks right along the equator have roughly 12-hour days and 12-hour nights all year long, so they won't really notice a thing. But people close to the poles, in destinations such as the northern parts of Canada, Norway and Russia, go through wild swings in the day/night ratio each year. They have long, dark winters and summers where night barely intrudes.
But during equinoxes, everyone from pole to pole gets to enjoy a 12 / 12 split of day and night. Well, there's just one rub — it isn't as perfectly "equal" as you may have thought.
There's a good explanation (SCIENCE!) for why you don't get precisely 12 hours of daylight on the equinox. More on that farther down in the article.
Here are the answers to your fall equinox questions:
Where does the word 'equinox' come from?
From our CNN Fast Facts file: The term equinox comes from the Latin word equinoxium, meaning "equality between day and night."
Precisely when does the fall equinox happen?
The equinox will arrive at 13:31 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) September 22. For people in places such as Toronto and Miami, that's 9:31 a.m. local time. Out in Los Angeles and Vancouver, that means it arrives at 6:31 a.m.Now for folks in Madrid, Berlin and Cairo, it comes precisely at 3:31 p.m. Going farther east, Dubai marks the exact event at 5:31 p.m. For residents of Bangkok, it's 8:31 p.m. while Singapore and Hong Kong clock in at 9:31 p.m. You can click here to see more cities (rounded down by one minute).
Why does fall equinox happen?
The Earth rotates along an imaginary line that runs from North Pole to South Pole. It's called the axis, and this rotation is what gives us day and night.
However, the axis tilts at 23.5 degrees, as NASA explains. That positions one hemisphere of the planet to get more sunlight than the other for half of the year's orbit around the sun. This discrepancy in sunlight is what triggers the seasons.
The effect is at its maximum in late June and late December. Those are the solstices, and they have the most extreme differences between day and night, especially near the poles. (That's why it stays light for so long each day during the summer in places such as Scandinavia and Alaska.)
But since the summer solstice three months ago in June, you've noticed that our days have been progressively becoming shorter in the Northern Hemisphere and the nights longer. And now here we are at the fall equinox!
What did our ancestors know about all this?
A 'superhenge' discovered near Stonehenge in England is believed to have been built 4,500 years ago. CNN's Erin McLaughlin reports.
Long before the age of clocks, satellites and modern technology, our ancient ancestors knew a lot about the movement of the sun across the sky — enough to build massive monuments and temples that, among other purposes, served as giant calendars to mark the seasons.Normally, you could arrange travel to these sites. This year, you have to factor in the Covid-19 pandemic like you would with anyother trip.
Here are just a few of the sites associated with the equinox:
— Megalithic Temples of Malta: These seven temples on the Mediterranean island are some of the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world, going back 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. At Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples, the semicircular chambers are aligned so that the rising sun on an equinox is framed between the stones.
What are some festivals, myths and rituals still with us?
All around the world, the fall equinox has weaved its way into our cultures and traditions.
In Greek mythology, the fall equinox marks the return of the goddess Persephone to the underworld for three months, where she is reunited with her husband, Hades.Chinese and Vietnamese people still celebrate the Harvest Moon (also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival). Lanterns line the streets as people give thanks, watch the moon and eat. Round pastries called mooncakes are a Mid-Autumn Festival favorite. It's held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month on the Chinese calendar. That will Read More – Source