The Sphinx stares directly into the sunrise on the equinox. Credit: Andrea De Stefani
Spring officially arrives at 10:32 am PDT on March 20. At this moment, the sun passes directly over the equator. On the dates of the equinoxes, both spring and fall, the sun will rise directly in the east and set directly in the west.
You can make your own astronomical calendar and track the movements of the sun in your yard by marking a central spot for your location and then erecting markers for where you see the sun rise and set on the equinoxes and solstices. The remnants of many ancient calendars such as Stonehenge and the Mayan temples are still ticking off the passing of the seasons. The Great Sphinx of Giza faces directly east, where it stares into the sunrise on every spring and fall equinox.
This weekend, if you watch the sun sink directly in the west, the first bright point of light to burst onto the scene is Venus. Venus was named after the Goddess of Love and is associated with fertility, which is an appropriate light to have shining in spring skies as baby animals begin to repopulate the forests and fields. On the opposite horizon, Saturn is rising in the east. Saturn is named after the God of Agriculture, another appropriate light to be shining in spring skies as farmers prepare for the planting season.
The planet Mars is high overhead in the southeast. Interestingly, these three planets, which are currently spread so far apart at sunset that they mark the western, eastern, and overhead regions of the night sky, will get closer and closer over the course of the next few months. By early August, Venus, Saturn, and Mars will be only a few small degrees from each other on the western horizon. It’s no wonder planets were named with a word that means “wandering stars.”
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Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com