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Fall Equinox, Equal Day and Night for Oregon Coast, Washington Coast; Jupiter Closest

Published 09/18/22 at 5:15 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Fall Equinox, Equal Day and Night for Oregon Coast, Washington Coast; Jupiter Closest

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(Astoria, Oregon) – Jupiter, equinox and the coast – oh my. The Oregon coast and Washington coast are more connected to astronomy than people think, and this is one of those standout moments when Pacific Northwest beaches have some interstellar guideposts to recognize. (Above: Yachats. photo copyright Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

On Thursday, the region officially says goodbye to summer with the autumnal equinox marking the transition into actual fall.

Then a few days later, look to the skies from the coastlines and witness something slightly historic: Jupiter will be at its closest to us in 70 years.

According to astronomy expert Jim Todd at Portland's OMSI, the new season happens along the Washington coast and Oregon coast at 6:03 p.m. It's the date for the entire northern hemisphere, marking the end of summer and beginning of autumn, where the days accelerate their shortening.

“This is the moment in time where the Sun’s rays are directly over the equator and the days are nights are nearly equal in length,” Todd said. “The Sun’s rays continue to make their journey south, and as a result, hours of darkness will be longer than daylight. This is the reason it's called an 'equinox,' Latin word meaning 'equal.'

There's a little astronomical quirk here. Todd said September 25 – three days later – is actually when day and night get almost exactly 12 hours, or equal time. The 45th parallel – which runs very close to Cascade Head on the central Oregon coast and near Portland and Salem – helps plot out the day in an interesting manner.

“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.”

Near Gold Beach. Photo Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

That refraction also creates another startling phenomenon with sunsets on the Oregon coast and Washington coast. See Sunset Science: Dusk Isn't What It Seems on Oregon, Washington Coast

“The autumnal equinox coincides with many cultural events, religious observances, and customs around the world,” Todd said.

He points to ancient holidays in China and Vietnam, and notes here in the Pacific Northwest it's cause for wine or beer festivals, and harvest festivals, among other things. Those meandering the beaches in Brookings, Florence, Pacific City, Long Beach or Westport may still find the region basking in some summer-like conditions, however. It's still what's called Second Summer – in general.

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL/Cassini, Kevin M. Gill

When days are clear and those coastal skies are intensely blue, the nighttime skies should be amazing. All summer, Jupiter has been the brilliant, monster of a star in the skies – usually to the east. It may get even brighter.

“Earth will move between the sun and Jupiter on September 26, 2022, placing the Jovian planet opposite the sun in our sky and closer than in 70 years,” Todd said.

The planet Jupiter will be at opposition on Monday, September 26 at 12:25 PM PDT.

It will be at a distance of 367 million miles or 3.95 AU, Todd said. Jupiter will then be at its closest approach and fully illuminated, perhaps even noticeably more than it has been.

“At magnitude of -2.93, Jupiter will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long,” Todd said. “Later before sunrise, a medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Jupiter's Red Spot located in its southern hemisphere.”

On top of that, look left of Jupiter and you'll see a sizable red star – that's the red planet Mars. It too has been prominent all summer long. Saturn sits a ways right of Jupiter, Todd said.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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