As the spring equinox approaches, photographs of eggs and brooms standing on end have circulated through social media. Many people believe this happens because of astronomical reasons — primarily the Earth’s alignment with the sun.
Is this fact or phenomenon?
There are two equinoxes every year — one in March and the other in September — when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal. The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).
During an equinox, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is not inclined away from nor toward the sun, leaving the center of the sun in the same plane as the Earth’s equator. An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time, not two whole days and certainly not entire weeks. The equinoxes happen around March 20 and September 22 each year. Seasons are opposite on either side of the equator, so the one in March is also known as the “spring equinox” in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s known as the “autumnal (fall) equinox”.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac — www.almanac.com — spring officially begins this year in the Northern Hemisphere on March 20 at 1:14 a.m.
Equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are days. By convention, equiluxes are the days where sunrise and sunset are closest to being exactly 12 hours apart.
These celestial points have been observed for thousands of years and given rise to a considerable body of seasonal folklore, which has resulted in the sharing of photos — particularly by way of online social media — of eggs and brooms standing on end. Several readers readers of The Union Daily Times even submitted their own balancing act photos. A respected source, however, says the trend is based on a myth.
Phil Plait performed web-based public outreach for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other NASA-funded missions while at Sonoma State University from 2000-2007. Prior to that — during the 1990s — he was part of the Hubble Space Telescope team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working largely on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. In 2008, Plait created badastronomy.com — a website dedicated to clearing up public misconceptions about astronomy and space science in movies, television, print and on the Internet.
On badastronomy.com, Plait addresses the idea of balancing eggs during an equinox.
“This has to be one of the silliest misconceptions around, and it never seems to die,” he writes.
Plait goes on to explain what an equinox is.
“Note that his happens twice a year, in spring and autumn,” Plait writes. “If you can stand an egg on its end on the spring equinox, surely you can on the autumnal equinox as well! Yet this always seems to get overlooked. That should be your first indication that something fishy is going on.”
Plait summarizes his observations with, “Bottom line: if an egg stands on end, it would do it at any time, and not just at the equinox. The equinox has nothing to do with it.”
Plait also pointed out that those who balance eggs (or brooms) during an equinox do not attempt the feat during other times of the year, and he encourages them to do so.