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Why Is It An Early Spring?

With the promise of new life; growth and openings in the Book of Allah, the Holy Qur’an; “A Sign for them is the dead land which We bring to life and from which We bring forth grain of which they eat” [Surat Yasin 36:33].

This year marks the earliest spring we’ve seen in the North Hemisphere of Planet Earth since 1896. That’s thanks to the fact that 2000 was a leap year, which was unusual since most century years, like 1700, 1800, and 1900, weren’t leap years.

One of the remarkable things that the ancient astronomers observed was the position of the sun among the stars. That knowledge is surprising, because no one can see the sun against the starry background, except on the rare occasions when there is a solar eclipse.

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Yet the earliest astronomers knew that, on the date of equinox, the sun was in the constellation Aries, even though Aries itself wouldn’t be visible until a couple of months later.

Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Babylonians among other ancient human civilizations have calculated and decided that spring officially began when the sun shone directly on Earth’s equator. As a result, the first day of spring is scientifically referred to as the spring, or vernal, equinox, and the autumn equinox in Earth’s South Hemisphere.

However, there is one problem with establishing seasons based on Earth’s movement through space, which is that the time it takes Earth to complete one revolution around the sun isn’t exactly 365 days. In fact, it actually takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds.

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Twice a year, around March 20 or 21 and September 22 or 23, the sun’s most direct rays shine on the equator. These two days are known as the vernal (spring) equinox and the autumnal (fall) equinox, respectively.

On that date, the sun crosses over from the southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere. During this process, the sun shines directly over the earth’s equator, bathing the earth’s northern and southern hemispheres in nearly an equal amount of sunlight.

Instead of a tilt away from or toward the sun, the Earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the Earth and the sun during an equinox. During the equinox, both day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world.

For those in the northern hemisphere; daylight continues to grow longer until the summer solstice which occurs on Monday, June 20. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere, where daylight continues to grow shorter.

The big difference about the twenty-first century was that the year 2000 was a leap year. While this didn’t affect our daily lives, it did make one difference: “Instead of everything being reset so that all the dates of the equinoxes and solstices get knocked back to their usual dates … that did not happen,” informed astronomer Bob Berman who runs Overlook Observatory in New York, USA and owns a giant book containing tens of thousands of past and future equinox dates.

The result is that the first day of spring will be moving to earlier times throughout this century. This year, the spring equinox officially started at 4:30 UTC March 20. By the time we reach the 2300s, however, we’ll be back on track and most spring equinoxes will fall on March 21.

Slooh which is a collection of astronomical optical observatories around the world has created this live stream to celebrate the early cosmic event online.