Vernal Equinox Astronomy: Spring Science Above Oregon Coast, Portland
(Oregon Coast) – Spring arrives tomorrow, both in the realm of astronomy and the very real world sense of soaking wet weather on the Oregon coast. (Above: Lincoln City).
The vernal equinox descends on the Earth on Friday at exactly 3:45 p.m., marking the switch from winter to spring. While that leaves little to actually see for people on this blue globe, it means a lot to astronomers and anyone with an interest in the science of the world around them.
Jim Todd, planetarium manager at Portland's OMSI, said there is a lot to think about when it comes to what's going on above you. For starters, this is the day where both the north pole and south pole are at equal distances from the sun, which is 92.6 million miles away.
There will be something you can notice, if you take the trouble to measure daylight and nighttime hours exactly.
“At that instant the sun stands directly over the Earths equator,” Todd said. “The first day of spring, called 'the vernal equinox', vernal meaning 'green', and equinox meaning 'equal night', which simply means that on the equinox the hours of daylight are equal to the hours of night.”
The weather may not cooperate for looking at the sun, but Todd said that Portland, Oregon and indeed the coast could see something interesting there. From this part of the world, the noon sun will reach its middle point in the sky at almost 45 degrees from the southern horizon, Todd said.
The Earth is at a 23.4 degree tilt on its axis, Todd said, and because of that Oregon gets the sun's rays most directly in the summer. During winter, we are tilted away from the sun, which causes the rays to pass through a larger segment of atmosphere and thus cools the temperatures.
A small difference in the axis would create a much different Earth, Todd said.
"If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons,” Todd said.
While the Oregon coast and inland areas like Portland have been enjoying a very spring-like winter in recent months, the region will return to its notorious wetness for spring break. A sizable rain-soaked system is on its way, hitting the Oregon coast first on Friday and then drenching Portland over the weekend. Rain will back off the region on Wednesday and through the following weekend.
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