Vernal Equinox

Hemlock Bridge Fryeburg

Nothern Lights over Hemlock Bridge in Fryeburg courtesy of

Vernal Equinox

Old Man Winter sure is slow to give way this year but with the vernal equinox, spring is sure to prevail.  The official time is March 20th at 22:45 Coordinated Universal Time or 6:45 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

This year, the moon is new on the vernal equinox and will be at perigee, the closest point to the earth in its orbit.  In recent years the term super moon has become popular although usually it refers to when the moon is full at perigee.

When the moon is new, it rises and sets at nearly the same time as the sun.  If you looked outside in the early hours this past week, you may have noticed a crescent moon in the eastern sky before dawn.  Over the next few days, look for the crescent in the western sky just after sunset.  You might notice the illuminated crescent has shifted from left to right.  The new moon marks the change from waning to waxing crescent.  Read more at explaining the phases of the moon

The equinox is a moment in time in the earth’s tilt when the sun moves across the imaginary celestial equator into the northern hemisphere.  On this day, no matter where your location is on the earth, the sun will rise due east and set due west.  Click here to find the rise and set times of the sun and moon near you

Today as you welcome spring at the precise minute, you know this because of the standardization of time.  Time was first standardized in North America in 1883 when the U.S and Canadian railroads designated time zones across the continent for train schedules.  Before this, time was a local concern without the need to synchronize clocks with neighboring towns.  It wasn’t until 1918 with the Standard Time Act that time zones in the U.S. became law.  Meanwhile, in 1884, the prime meridian for longitude and timekeeping was established at the Greenwich Observatory creating Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is now referred to as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) from which we subtract 4 hours for eastern daylight savings time.

Geographically, Maine has just over a 2.5 degree longitude difference from its most easterly point to the most westerly point.  The difference from east to west in the time the sunrises on March 20th is about 16 minutes.  So, those in the most westerly regions of the state from Kittery to Fryeburg along the New Hampshire border are a quarter of an hour behind Eastport and the Quoddy Region with communities like Allagash Village, Sebec and Rockland about in the middle.  Standardized time is necessary for our human schedules but spring will arrive across Maine at Mother Natures sweet will.

Last week in Quoddy Nature Notes, there was an interesting discussion on time and light.

While we wait on Old Man Winter and Mother Nature to work out their differences, another weather phenomenon was seen in the skies over Maine this past week.  Energized particles that originate from the sun ride the solar winds through space where they are deflected by earth’s magnetic field.  However some particles become trapped and travel the magnetic field toward the polar regions where they form an aurora.  Volatile storms on the sun impact the aurora when trapped energy dissipates, releasing light particles that create the Northern Lights.  When and where the northern lights can be seen depends on your location and the influence of light pollution, weather and the phase of the moon.

Space weather forecasting is centered in Boulder, CO.  They do more than predict the northern lights, they monitor significant geomagnetic activity that may impact the power grid, airline travel, international space station activities, global positioning systems (GPS) and other satellite dependent services.  Learn more here about Space Weather and to view an animated video of the aurora forecast from NOAA.

To read more Maine Nature News posts on the vernal equinox and to compare this year’s snow melt with past years follow this link