UT date and time of
equinoxes and solstices on Earth[1][2]
event equinox solstice equinox solstice
month March[3] June[4] September[5] December[6]
year day time day time day time day time
2019 20 21:58 21 15:54 23 07:50 22 04:19
2020 20 03:50 20 21:43 22 13:31 21 10:03
2021 20 09:37 21 03:32 22 19:21 21 15:59
2022 20 15:33 21 09:14 23 01:04 21 21:48
2023 20 21:25 21 14:58 23 06:50 22 03:28
2024 20 03:07 20 20:51 22 12:44 21 09:20
2025 20 09:02 21 02:42 22 18:20 21 15:03
2026 20 14:46 21 08:25 23 00:06 21 20:50
2027 20 20:25 21 14:11 23 06:02 22 02:43
2028 20 02:17 20 20:02 22 11:45 21 08:20
2029 20 08:01 21 01:48 22 17:37 21 14:14

A solar equinox is a moment in time when the Sun crosses the Earth's equator, which is to say, appears directly above the equator, rather than north or south of the equator. On the day of the equinox, the Sun appears to rise "due east" and set "due west". This occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September.[a]

More precisely, an equinox is traditionally defined as the time when the plane of Earth's equator passes through the geometric center of the Sun's disk.[7][8] Equivalently, this is the moment when Earth's rotation axis is directly perpendicular to the Sun-Earth line, tilting neither toward nor away from the Sun. In modern times[when?], since the Moon (and to a lesser extent the planets) causes Earth's orbit to vary slightly from a perfect ellipse, the equinox is officially defined by the Sun's more regular ecliptic longitude rather than by its declination. The instants of the equinoxes are currently defined to be when the apparent geocentric longitude of the Sun is 0° and 180°.[9]

The word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, from aequus (equal) and nox (night). On the day of an equinox, daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. Contrary to popular belief,[10][11] they are not exactly equal because of the angular size of the Sun, atmospheric refraction, and the rapidly changing duration of the length of day that occurs at most latitudes around the equinoxes. Long before conceiving this equality, primitive equatorial cultures noted the day when the Sun rises due east and sets due west, and indeed this happens on the day closest to the astronomically defined event. As a consequence, according to a properly constructed and aligned sundial, the daytime duration is 12 hours.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox is called the vernal or spring equinox while the September equinox is called the autumnal or fall equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, the reverse is true. During the year, equinoxes alternate with solstices. Leap years and other factors cause the dates of both events to vary slightly.[12]

Hemisphere-neutral names are northward equinox for the March equinox, indicating that at that moment the solar declination is crossing the celestial equator in a northward direction, and southward equinox for the September equinox, indicating that at that moment the solar declination is crossing the celestial equator in a southward direction.

Daytime is increasing at the fastest at the vernal equinox and decreasing at the fastest at the autumnal equinox.

Equinoxes on Earth




Systematically observing the sunrise, people discovered that it occurs between two extreme locations at the horizon and eventually noted the midpoint between the two. Later it was realized that this happens on a day when the duration of the day and the night are practically equal and the word "equinox" comes from Latin aequus, meaning "equal", and nox, meaning "night".

In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox (March) conventionally marks the beginning of spring in most cultures and is considered the start of the New Year in the Assyrian calendar, Hindu, and the Persian or Iranian calendars,[b] while the autumnal equinox (September) marks the beginning of autumn.[13] Ancient Greek calendars too had the beginning of the year either at the autumnal or vernal equinox and some at solstices. The Antikythera mechanism predicts the equinoxes and solstices.[14]

The equinoxes are the only times when the solar terminator (the "edge" between night and day) is perpendicular to the equator. As a result, the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated.

For the same reason, this is also the time when the Sun rises for an observer at one of Earth's rotational poles and sets at the other. For a brief period lasting approximately four days, both North and South Poles are in daylight.[c] For example, in 2021 sunrise on the North Pole is 18 March 07:09 UTC, and sunset on the South Pole is 22 March 13:08 UTC. Also in 2021, sunrise on the South Pole is 20 September 16:08 UTC, and sunset on the North Pole is 24 September 22:30 UTC.[15][16]

In other words, the equinoxes are the only times when the subsolar point is on the equator, meaning that the Sun is exactly overhead at a point on the equatorial line. The subsolar point crosses the equator moving northward at the March equinox and southward at the September equinox.



When Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar in 45 BC, he set 25 March as the date of the spring equinox;[17] this was already the starting day of the year in the Persian and Indian calendars. Because the Julian year is longer than the tropical year by about 11.3 minutes on average (or 1 day in 128 years), the calendar "drifted" with respect to the two equinoxes – so that in 300 AD the spring equinox occurred on about 21 March, and by the 1580s AD it had drifted backwards to 11 March.[18]

This drift induced Pope Gregory XIII to establish the modern Gregorian calendar. The Pope wanted to continue to conform with the edicts of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD concerning the date of Easter, which means he wanted to move the vernal equinox to the date on which it fell at that time (21 March is the day allocated to it in the Easter table of the Julian calendar), and to maintain it at around that date in the future, which he achieved by reducing the number of leap years from 100 to 97 every 400 years. However, there remained a small residual variation in the date and time of the vernal equinox of about ±27 hours from its mean position, virtually all because the distribution of 24 hour centurial leap-days causes large jumps (see Gregorian calendar leap solstice).

Modern dates


The dates of the equinoxes change progressively during the leap-year cycle, because the Gregorian calendar year is not commensurate with the period of the Earth's revolution about the Sun. It is only after a complete Gregorian leap-year cycle of 400 years that the seasons commence at approximately the same time. In the 21st century the earliest March equinox will be 19 March 2096, while the latest was 21 March 2003. The earliest September equinox will be 21 September 2096 while the latest was 23 September 2003 (Universal Time).[12]


  • Vernal equinox and autumnal equinox: these classical names are direct derivatives of Latin (ver = spring, and autumnus = autumn). These are the historically universal and still most widely used terms for the equinoxes, but are potentially confusing because in the southern hemisphere the vernal equinox does not occur in spring and the autumnal equinox does not occur in autumn. The equivalent common language English terms spring equinox and autumn (or fall) equinox are even more ambiguous.[19][20][21] It has become increasingly common for people to refer to the September equinox in the southern hemisphere as the Vernal equinox.[22][23]
  • March equinox and September equinox: names referring to the months of the year in which they occur, with no ambiguity as to which hemisphere is the context. They are still not universal, however, as not all cultures use a solar-based calendar where the equinoxes occur every year in the same month (as they do not in the Islamic calendar and Hebrew calendar, for example).[24] Although the terms have become very common in the 21st century, they were sometimes used at least as long ago as the mid-20th century.[25]
  • Northward equinox and southward equinox: names referring to the apparent direction of motion of the Sun. The northward equinox occurs in March when the Sun crosses the equator from south to north, and the southward equinox occurs in September when the Sun crosses the equator from north to south. These terms can be used unambiguously for other planets. They are rarely seen, although were first proposed over 100 years ago.[26]
  • First point of Aries and first point of Libra: names referring to the astrological signs the Sun is entering. However, the precession of the equinoxes has shifted these points into the constellations Pisces and Virgo, respectively.[27]

Length of equinoctial day and night

Contour plot of the hours of daylight as a function of latitude and day of the year, showing approximately 12 hours of daylight at all latitudes during the equinoxes
Earth at the September 2022 equinox

On the date of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day[d] are about the same length. Sunrise and sunset can be defined in several ways, but a widespread definition is the time that the top limb of the Sun is level with the horizon.[28] With this definition, the day is longer than the night at the equinoxes:[7]

  1. From the Earth, the Sun appears as a disc rather than a point of light, so when the centre of the Sun is below the horizon, its upper edge may be visible. Sunrise, which begins daytime, occurs when the top of the Sun's disk appears above the eastern horizon. At that instant, the disk's centre is still below the horizon.
  2. The Earth's atmosphere refracts sunlight. As a result, an observer sees daylight before the top of the Sun's disk appears above the horizon.

In sunrise/sunset tables, the atmospheric refraction is assumed to be 34 arcminutes, and the assumed semidiameter (apparent radius) of the Sun is 16 arcminutes. (The apparent radius varies slightly depending on time of year, slightly larger at perihelion in January than aphelion in July, but the difference is comparatively small.) Their combination means that when the upper limb of the Sun is on the visible horizon, its centre is 50 arcminutes below the geometric horizon, which is the intersection with the celestial sphere of a horizontal plane through the eye of the observer.[29]

These effects make the day about 14 minutes longer than the night at the equator and longer still towards the poles. The real equality of day and night only happens in places far enough from the equator to have a seasonal difference in day length of at least 7 minutes,[30] actually occurring a few days towards the winter side of each equinox. One result of this is that, at latitudes below ±2.0 degrees, all the days of the year are longer than the nights.[31]

The times of sunset and sunrise vary with the observer's location (longitude and latitude), so the dates when day and night are equal also depend upon the observer's location.

A third correction for the visual observation of a sunrise (or sunset) is the angle between the apparent horizon as seen by an observer and the geometric (or sensible) horizon. This is known as the dip of the horizon and varies from 3 arcminutes for a viewer standing on the sea shore to 160 arcminutes for a mountaineer on Everest.[32] The effect of a larger dip on taller objects (reaching over 2½° of arc on Everest) accounts for the phenomenon of snow on a mountain peak turning gold in the sunlight long before the lower slopes are illuminated.

The date on which the day and night are exactly the same is known as an equilux; the neologism, believed to have been coined in the 1980s, achieved more widespread recognition in the 21st century.[e] At the most precise measurements, a true equilux is rare, because the lengths of day and night change more rapidly than any other time of the year around the equinoxes. In the mid-latitudes, daylight increases or decreases by about three minutes per day at the equinoxes, and thus adjacent days and nights only reach within one minute of each other. The date of the closest approximation of the equilux varies slightly by latitude; in the mid-latitudes, it occurs a few days before the spring equinox and after the fall equinox in each respective hemisphere.[37]



Mirror-image conjugate auroras have been observed during the equinoxes.[38]

Cultural aspects


The equinoxes are sometimes regarded as the start of spring and autumn. A number of traditional harvest festivals are celebrated on the date of the equinoxes.

People in countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan celebrate Nowruz which is spring equinox in northern hemisphere. This day marks the new year in Solar Hijri calendar.

Religious architecture is often determined by the equinox; the Angkor Wat Equinox during which the sun rises in a perfect alignment over Angkor Wat in Cambodia is one such example.[39]

Catholic churches, since the recommendations of Charles Borromeo, have often chosen the equinox as their reference point for the orientation of churches.[40]

In India




Vishu, from Sanskrit Viṣuvam, literally means 'equal', and it connoted to the celebration of spring equinox in the past. The spring equinox however occurs 24 days before the day of Vishu, on 21 March/Meenam 7, due to precession of equinoxes.

Effects on satellites


One effect of equinoctial periods is the temporary disruption of communications satellites. For all geostationary satellites, there are a few days around the equinox when the Sun goes directly behind the satellite relative to Earth (i.e. within the beam-width of the ground-station antenna) for a short period each day. The Sun's immense power and broad radiation spectrum overload the Earth station's reception circuits with noise and, depending on antenna size and other factors, temporarily disrupt or degrade the circuit. The duration of those effects varies but can range from a few minutes to an hour. (For a given frequency band, a larger antenna has a narrower beam-width and hence experiences shorter duration "Sun outage" windows.)[41]

Satellites in geostationary orbit also experience difficulties maintaining power during the equinox because they have to travel through Earth's shadow and rely only on battery power. Usually, a satellite travels either north or south of the Earth's shadow because Earth's axis is not directly perpendicular to a line from the Earth to the Sun at other times. During the equinox, since geostationary satellites are situated above the Equator, they are in Earth's shadow for the longest duration all year.[42]

Equinoxes on other planets

When Saturn is at equinox its rings reflect little sunlight, as seen in this image by Cassini in 2009.

Equinoxes are defined on any planet with a tilted rotational axis. A dramatic example is Saturn, where the equinox places its ring system edge-on facing the Sun. As a result, they are visible only as a thin line when seen from Earth. When seen from above – a view seen during an equinox for the first time from the Cassini space probe in 2009 – they receive very little sunshine; indeed, they receive more planetshine than light from the Sun.[43] This phenomenon occurs once every 14.7 years on average, and can last a few weeks before and after the exact equinox. Saturn's most recent equinox was on 11 August 2009, and its next will take place on 6 May 2025.[44]

Mars's most recent equinoxes were on 12 January 2024 (northern autumn), and on 26 December 2022 (northern spring).[45]

See also



  1. ^ This article follows the customary Wikipedia style detailed at Manual of Style/Dates and numbers#Julian and Gregorian calendars; dates before 15 October 1582 are given in the Julian calendar while more recent dates are given in the Gregorian calendar. Dates before 1 March 8 AD are given in the Julian calendar as observed in Rome; there is an uncertainty of a few days when these early dates are converted to the proleptic Julian calendar.
  2. ^ The year in the Iranian calendar begins on Nowruz, which means "new day".
  3. ^ This is possible because atmospheric refraction "lofts" the Sun's apparent disk above its true position in the sky.
  4. ^ Here, "day" refers to when the Sun is above the horizon.
  5. ^ Prior to the 1980s there was no generally accepted term for the phenomenon, and the word "equilux" was more commonly used as a synonym for isophot.[33] The newer meaning of "equilux" is modern (c. 1985 to 1986), and not usually intended: Technical references since the beginning of the 20th century (c. 1910) have used the terms "equilux" and "isophot" interchangeably to mean "of equal illumination" in the context of curves showing how intensely lighting equipment will illuminate a surface. See for instance Walsh (1947).[34] The earliest confirmed use of the modern meaning was in a post on the Usenet group net.astro,[35] which refers to "discussion last year exploring the reasons why equilux and equinox are not coincident". Use of this particular pseudo-latin protologism can only be traced to an extremely small (less than six) number of predominently U.S. American people in such online media for the next 20 years until its broader adoption as a neologism (c. 2006), and then its subsequent use by more mainstream organisations (c. 2012).[36]


  1. ^ Astronomical Applications Department of USNO. "Earth's Seasons - Equinoxes, Solstices, Perihelion, and Aphelion". Retrieved 1 August 2022.
  2. ^ "Solstices and Equinoxes: 2001 to 2100". AstroPixels.com. 20 February 2018. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  3. ^ Équinoxe de printemps entre 1583 et 2999
  4. ^ Solstice d’été de 1583 à 2999
  5. ^ Équinoxe d’automne de 1583 à 2999
  6. ^ Solstice d’hiver
  7. ^ a b "Equinoxes". Astronomical Information Center. United States Naval Observatory. 14 June 2019. Archived from the original on 21 August 2019. Retrieved 9 July 2019. On the day of an equinox, the geometric center of the Sun's disk crosses the equator, and this point is above the horizon for 12 hours everywhere on the Earth. However, the Sun is not simply a geometric point. Sunrise is defined as the instant when the leading edge of the Sun's disk becomes visible on the horizon, whereas sunset is the instant when the trailing edge of the disk disappears below the horizon. These are the moments of first and last direct sunlight. At these times the center of the disk is below the horizon. Furthermore, atmospheric refraction causes the Sun's disk to appear higher in the sky than it would if the Earth had no atmosphere. Thus, in the morning the upper edge of the disk is visible for several minutes before the geometric edge of the disk reaches the horizon. Similarly, in the evening the upper edge of the disk disappears several minutes after the geometric disk has passed below the horizon. The times of sunrise and sunset in almanacs are calculated for the normal atmospheric refraction of 34 minutes of arc and a semidiameter of 16 minutes of arc for the disk. Therefore, at the tabulated time the geometric center of the Sun is actually 50 minutes of arc below a regular and unobstructed horizon for an observer on the surface of the Earth in a level region
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  11. ^ Plait, Phil (22 September 2023). "The Equinox Is Not What You Think It Is". Scientific American. Retrieved 29 June 2024.
  12. ^ a b Yallop, B.D.; Hohenkerk, C.Y.; Bell, S.A. (2013). "Astronomical Phenomena". In Urban, S.E.; Seidelmann, P. K. (eds.). Explanatory supplement to the astronomical almanac (3rd ed.). Mill Valley, CA: University Science Books. pp. 506–507. ISBN 978-1-891389-85-6.
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  20. ^ Curtis, Howard D. (2013). Orbital Mechanics for Engineering Students. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp. 188ff. ISBN 978-0-08-097748-5.
  21. ^ Grewal, Mohinder S.; Weill, Lawrence R.; Andrews, Angus P. (2007). Global Positioning Systems, Inertial Navigation, and Integration. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 459ff. ISBN 978-0-470-09971-1.
  22. ^ Bowditch, Nathaniel (2002). The American practical navigator: An epitome of navigation. National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Paradise Cay Publications. pp. 229ff. ISBN 978-0-939837-54-0.
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  43. ^ "PIA11667: The Rite of Spring". Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  44. ^ Lakdawalla, Emily (7 July 2016). "Oppositions, conjunctions, seasons, and ring plane crossings of the giant planets". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
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