equinox ?kw?n?ks [key], either of two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect. The vernal equinox, also known as
the first point of Aries,is the point at which the sun appears to cross the celestial equator from south to north. This occurs about Mar. 21, marking the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. At the autumnal equinox, about Sept. 23, the sun again appears to cross the celestial equator, this time from north to south; this marks the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. On the date of either equinox, night and day are of equal length (12 hr each) in all parts of the world; the word equinox is often used to refer to either of these dates. The equinoxes are not fixed points on the celestial sphere but move westward along the ecliptic, passing through all the constellations of the zodiac in 26,000 years. This motion is called the precession of the equinoxes. The vernal equinox is a reference point in the equatorial coordinate system.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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