vernal equinox

Science Dictionary
equinox   (ē'kwə-nŏks')  Pronunciation Key 
  1. Either of the two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun) crosses the celestial equator. ◇ The point at which the Sun's path crosses the celestial equator moving from south to north is called the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox marks the zero point in both the equatorial and ecliptic coordinate systems; horizontal angular distances (right ascension in the equatorial system and celestial longitude in the ecliptic system) are measured eastward from this point. The vernal equinox is also known as the first point of Aries because when first devised some 2,000 years ago this point occurred at the beginning of Aries in the zodiac. Because of the westward precession of the equinoxes, the vernal equinox is now located at the beginning of Pisces. ◇ The point at which the Sun's path crosses the celestial equator moving from north to south is called the autumnal equinox.

  2. Either of the two corresponding moments of the year when the Sun is directly above the Earth's equator. The vernal equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 and the autumnal equinox on September 22 or 23, marking the beginning of spring and autumn, respectively, in the Northern Hemisphere (and the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere). The days on which an equinox falls have about equal periods of sunlight and darkness. Compare solstice.


American Heritage
Science Dictionary
vernal equinox   (vûr'nəl)  Pronunciation Key 
See under equinox.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
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