# Question for Astronomers about the Equinoxes

• brocks
In summary, the equinoxes don't match up according to professional standards, but they do according to the definition based on longitude.
brocks
In honor of the first day of autumn, I've been playing with spherical trig for recreation, and I made a spreadsheet to calculate an ephemeris (sunrise, sunset, etc.) for my location.

I noticed that when I tried to figure the exact moment of the equinoxes by using fractional days, I couldn't get the numbers to come out right. If things worked perfectly, then the sun's declination should be exactly zero when its RA is exactly 0 hours (spring) or 12 hours (fall), but they don't quite match up. One event is a few minutes before or after the other.

So I have some questions for astronomers:

1) Is the mismatch "real," i.e. they actually do differ by a bit because of perturbations in the Earth's motion or something, or would they match exactly if my algorithms were more accurate, or my software used higher precision?

2) If it is real, which is the official definition of the division between seasons, the one based on declination, or the one based on RA, or something else?

3) Is there a website or book that gives or describes the exact formulas used by professionals? (I do have Meeus' "Astronomical Algorithms," but I'm using a simplified formula from http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/SunApprox.php for my solar coordinates).

Thanks for any help.

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Thanks for the JPL link, but I'm more confused than ever.

Googling around, almost every website that gives a layman's explanation of the equinox says it occurs at the moment the sun is directly above the equator, i.e. its declination is exactly zero. But the Meeus book says that the official definition is based on its longitude, which translates to RA.

The JPL site gives 9:03 UT for the time when the RA is exactly 12 hours, and 8:57 UT for the time when the declination is exactly zero, so they don't match up, either, and both differ from the widely published times of either 9:04 or 9:05 UT for the equinox. Also, those times are for the "apparent" RA and dec. The times for the "astrometric" RA and dec, which involves differences I don't really understand but are listed on the JPL page that generates the data, are about four hours later. I don't see how subtle differences involving nutation or gravitational deflection of light can make a four-hour difference.

Help from pros greatly appreciated.

Philosophaie said:
Hope this helps:

I think it will, although not without a lot of effort on my part. But if it was easy, everybody could do it, right? Thanks very much.

## 1. What are the equinoxes?

The equinoxes are two specific moments in a year when the sun is exactly above the equator, resulting in equal amounts of daylight and darkness at all points on Earth.

## 2. When do the equinoxes occur?

The equinoxes occur twice a year, around March 20th and September 22nd, respectively. These dates may vary slightly due to the Earth's orbit and other astronomical factors.

## 3. How do equinoxes differ from solstices?

Equinoxes and solstices are both astronomical events that mark changes in seasons. However, equinoxes occur when the sun is directly above the equator, while solstices occur when the sun is at its furthest point from the equator.

## 4. What is the significance of equinoxes?

Equinoxes are significant because they mark the beginning of spring and autumn, which have cultural and agricultural significance for many civilizations. They also provide important astronomical data for scientists to study the Earth's tilt and orbit.

## 5. How do equinoxes affect different parts of the world?

The equinoxes have a significant impact on the amount of daylight and darkness experienced in different parts of the world. Countries near the equator have almost equal amounts of daylight and darkness throughout the year, while those closer to the poles may experience extreme variations in daylight during the equinoxes.

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