Although the first full day of spring is Friday, this evening at precisely 10:50 p.m., the vernal equinox occurs in the northern hemisphere and it is quite possible the arrival of spring will be accompanied by rain showers (maybe even some snow) but they should be light.
Astronomically, the vernal equinox is the time when the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator signaling the arrival of springtime in the northern hemisphere of Earth while autumn begins in the southern. It is also on this date that there is approximately the same amount of daylight in the northern hemisphere as there is in the southern.
The term equinox is derived from the Latin words, aequus (equal) and nox (night). It is believed that when such a Sun position occurs there is an equal amount of light and darkness over the 2 hemispheres but in reality, the day is longer than the night.
The temperatures for the past several days haven’t exactly felt like spring with highs in the low to mid-40s and some mid-50’s, but for many Midwesterners, this is the best time of the year … weatherwise.
It’s great to be able to get back outside with just a sweater or lightweight jacket and enjoy a long walk in the sunshine or just about any other outdoor activity.
The advent of spring also heralds the arrival of several stellar constellations that “decorate” the celestial dome stretching out above our heads.
Perhaps the most recognizable of them all is the one named Leo, the Lion that is not quite overhead but lies slightly to the southeast.
In addition to being one of 57 visible constellations, Leo is also just one of the 12 Zodiacal groupings of animals, people and creatures that lie in an imaginary band across the sky known as the ecliptic. It is in this band that the apparent paths of the Sun and all of the planets in our solar system move.
Leo is also rich in mythology importance and is one of the earliest recognized constellations.
The Mesopotamians are known to have documented the “lion” constellation while the Persians called it Ser or Shir; the Turks, Artan; the Syrians, Aryo; the Jewish, Arye; the Indians, Simha. These are all translated as the “lion.”
In Greek mythology, however, Leo is the Nemean Lion, which terrorized the citizens and had a hide that could not be punctured by iron, bronze or stone. Killing the lion was one of Hercules’ 12 labors, which he had to perform as penance for killing his family.
Having broken all of his weapons fighting the man-eating lion, Hercules finally strangled it to death and placed it in the heavens as one of his conquests.
Leo rises during the early evening and remains visible most of the night and it is home to a very easy to see yellowish star named Regulus. An interesting fact about Regulus is that although it has 3-1/2 times the mass of our Sun, it rotates every 15.5 hours as opposed to out Sun’s 30-day rotational period.
If you are facing toward the south, the entire formation of Leo will be to your upper right. Look for the distinctive sickle shaped line of stars that represent the lion’s head while far to the left is another bright star named Denebola (de-NEB-oh-la) that mark the lion’s hind-end.
Getting away from the astronomical side of this column, there are people who seriously believe at this time of year it is possible to stand an egg on end.
I can’t remember when it was but I read an article one time written by a gentleman named, Kevin Kehn, who at the time was an assistant professor of physics at Delta College in Saginaw, Michigan.
“You can balance an egg on its end any time of the year as long as you have the patience to do it,” Kehn concluded.