Skip to content

Vernal Equinox Part II: Festivals, Goddesses, Sunspot Cycles and an Eclipse

March 18, 2015

Vernal Festivals
The vernal equinox, by any name, has been a major cultural event around the world for millennia.  Of course, the farther one lives from the equator, the more noticeable are seasonal variations in daylight and warmth, and the more important these events become.  Cultures from around the world – including Japan, China, Iran, Russia, Egypt, Scandinavia, Scotland and throughout the Americas – developed their own festivals celebrating the vernal equinox and the onset of springtime.

The Snake of SunlightMain pyramid, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

The Snake of Sunlight — Main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
(CostinT from

Easter is the best known vernal festival in the western world.
Goddess of the Dawn to the Greeks was Eos (Aurora to the Romans), born of Titan parents, sister to sun-god Helios (Roman Sol Invictus) and moon-goddess Selene (Roman Luna), and mother of the four winds.  The name originates in the ancient Indo-European language, predecessor to nearly all European, Indian and Persian languages, and was Ostara (later Ostern) to the Germans, and Eastre in Old English and Ester in Middle English, from whence we get both East and Easter.  The early Christian church was good at co-opting festivals from other religions and peoples. So, the spring festival of Eos (by whatever local name variation) became Easter, re-configured to memorialize the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Spring festivals typically mark the end of the wintery season of death and the rebirth into spring, when plants bloom and animals bear their young.  The origin of the Easter Egg

Red Easter Eggs symbolize the blood of JesusWikipedia

Red Easter Eggs symbolize the blood of Jesus (Wikipedia – Easter Egg)

custom is complex: part obvious fertility symbol, part recognition of the end of Christian Lent (during which eggs were forbidden), part early Mesopotamian Christian symbol for the death of Jesus,  and part empty-shell symbol of the empty tomb of Jesus.  Easter is scheduled for the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, a formula which indirectly led to Western Europe’s replacement of the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

Sunspot Cycles
The sunspot cycle is driven by cyclic fluctuations in both polarity and strength of the solar magnetic field. On average, these magnetic poles reverse polarity – north magnetic pole becomes south magnetic pole and vice versa –  every 11.1 years, then does it again, for an average total of  22.2 years.  The Sunspot minimum period surrounds this polar flip: for example, current Cycle 24 began 1/4/2008 when at solar 30° north a sunspot appeared with polarity magnetically reversed from existing sunspots, the sign of a polar flip. That year was later ‘voted’ the “blankest year of the space age” – 266 days without a single sunspot, exceeding 1954’s 241 spotless days.  However, solar minima in the late 19th-early 20th centuries often had 200-300 spotless days per year.  Farther back, during the ‘Maunder Minimum’ (cause of Europe’s ‘Little Ice Age”of 1645-1715), only 30 sunspots appeared during one 30-year period.  Sunspot maximums occur roughly midway between minimums.  Current Cycle 24, expected to end in 2019, experienced a ‘double peak’ of spot maximum – 67 sunspots in Sep. 2012, then dropping, only to again peak at 82 spots in Apr. 2014.

For comparison, the earth’s magnetic field flips – not just slide around, but flips north to south – over a wildly varying cycle ranging from 10,000 to 25 million years. It takes an estimated 5000 years for the magnetic field to wane, flip, and wax, and – we are told – we may be in such a period right now. So keep an eye on your compass – if the needle point suddenly shifts to ‘south,’ or if your car’s GPS system suddenly becomes unreliable, well…don’t say you weren’t warned. And stay out of that ensuing influx of cosmic rays.
List of all 24 Solar Cycles

Just in case you thought you might escape this without seeing a chart, here’s your chart.

Sunspots – Last 10 cycles
Solar Start at Spots at Years of Date of Spots at
Cycle No. Minimum Minimum Cycle Maximum Maximum
15 Dec 1913 1.5 10.0 Aug 1917 105.4
16 May 1923 5.6 10.1 Apr 1928 78.1
17 Sep 1933 3.5 10.4 Apr 1937 119.2
18 Jan 1944 7.7 10.2 May 1947 151.8
19 Feb 1954 3.4 10.5 Mar 1958 201.3
20 Oct 1964 9.6 11.7 Nov 1968 110.6
21 May 1976 12.2 10.3 Dec 1979 164.5
22 Mar 1986 12.3 9.7 Jul 1989 158.5
23 Jun 1996 8.0 11.7 Mar 2000 120.8
24 Jan 2008 1.7 Apr 2014 81.9
All 24 Cycles
1755-2014 Mean 5.8 11.1   114.1

Coincidentally, a total eclipse of the sun,
visible over the north Atlantic Ocean, occurs this vernal equinox, March 20, lasting 2 minutes 47 seconds, with maximum at 9:46:47 Greenwich Mean Time. It begins east of Labrador, passes over the Faeroe Islands, Svalbard, and ends at the north pole, where it may be visible, despite the fact that technically the sun doesn’t do its single, annual rise there for another hour (see prior comment on atmospheric refraction at sun rise/set.)

Total Solar Eclipse in Antarctica (Fred Bruenjes 11/23/03)

Total Solar Eclipse in Antarctica (Fred Bruenjes 11/23/03)

So make sure you run outside at 3:45 PM on March 20 to witness the vernal equinox, despite the fact that, unlike a full moon, there really isn’t much to look at. By the way – the sun doesn’t rise and set. The earth revolves on its axis. But you knew that. [Chuck Almdale]

Link to Part I – Vernal Equinox March 20, 2015, 3:45 PM, PDT

One Comment
  1. Karen&Doug Kirk permalink
    March 18, 2015 6:43 pm

    Wonderful, interesting and timely + important informational blog. Appreciate YOU and your regular news. THANKS, Karen & Doug


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: