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What Does First Day of Spring Mean for Oregon / Washington Coast? Look to Skies

Published 03/17/21 at 6:50 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff


What Does First Day of Spring Mean for Oregon / Washington Coast? Look to Skies

(Long Beach, Washington) – The official end of winter is here, coming on Saturday, March 20. It's also the first day of spring and of spring break along the Oregon coast and Washington coast, where much of the Pacific Northwest's denizens head out for some fun. (Above: Rockaway Beach at night and star fall)

And they forget to look up or check out the skies at night.

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Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland's OMSI, said Saturday is the vernal equinox, happening at 2:37 a.m. in Washington and Oregon. There's a lot more going on there than you'd think, all happening in the solar system above us.

“The day on which both the north and south pole of the earth are equal distances towards the sun (92.6 million miles),” he said. “At that instant the sun stands directly over the Earths equator. 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 nearly equal to the hours of night.”

Todd said that if you're looking from Portland on March and 21, the noon sun will get to its mid-point in the sky near 45 degrees from the southern horizon. Then comes some other fun with astronomy right at sunset, especially if you're on the coasts of Washington or Oregon.

“On the day of an equinox, it is good day for finding due east and due west from your own backyard,” he said. “Just go outside around sunset or sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to familiar landmarks.”

This means sunset in places like Long Beach, Washington, Newport or Ophir will show you a sunset directly to the west. That bit of camera fun where you take shots of the sunset in an arch or some structure? That shot will hold some hidden meaning for you. Snap that photo of the sunset through the arch at Brooking's Harris Beach, below Blacklock Point or in between the girders of the wreck of the Peter Iredale and you can forever know that was the point of exact west.

Then Todd clues us all in on a bit of mind-bending science about the seasons.

What Does First Day of Spring Mean for Oregon / Washington Coast? Look to Skies

(Above: Earth during the day / night, called the day/night terminator; courtesy NASA)

“Because of the 23.4-degree tilt of the Earth's axis, we receive the Sun's rays most directly in the summer,” Todd said. “In the winter, when we are tilted away from the Sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. 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.”

The other twist in this equinox tale is that while the equinox should be when the hours of daylight and dark would be most evenly divided, Todd said that isn't true. In reality, today – March 17 – is when day and night are closest to being exactly 12 hours each in Portland. Here in Ptown, sunrise is at 7:18 a.m. and sunset is at 7:19 p.m.

Those exact 12-hour divides will be different days, depending on how far south you go into the south Oregon coast are how far north you go into the Washington coastline.

“At the 45th latitude North, the time it takes for the sun to fully rise and set, which is several minutes, is added to the day and subtracted from the night, and therefore the equinox day lasts a little longer than 12 hours,” Todd said. “Another reason why the day is longer than 12 hours on an equinox is that the Earth's atmosphere refracts sunlight. After March 17th, the daylights will be longer than nighttime until September 25th, after the autumnal equinox.”

More Fun in Oregon / Washington Coast Skies


Zodiacal Light in Bend, Oregon - courtesy David Lane

Keep an eye out for the Belt of Venus on clear days. This is a thick band of purple and darker stretches that is at the opposite end of the sky from the sunset.

From March 28 through April 11, we have a chance to see the rare False Sunset / Zodiacal Light. This is a trippy and awe-inspiring sight if you know what you're looking at. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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