Vernal Equinox: The Morning of Saturday March 20th - Sunrise is at 6:03 am. Gates will open around 5:30 am *
This Saturday marks the point at which the sun rises directly over the equator - the Spring Equinox. And while most of us will be wrapped up warm in bed at 5am, up to five thousand hardy souls will be braving the Wiltshire weather to welcome in the equinox at Stonehenge - including us.
We will be at the stone circle bright and early for two special Ancient World in London videos, speaking to Druids (including the inimitable King Arthur Pendragon), archaeologists and revellers as the sun rises over Britain's best-known ancient landmark.
But what can we expect to see on the day? Here's a video of sunrise last year taken by everyone in the office:
From a technical standpoint the Vernal Equinox is an astronomical event, it's one of the four quadrature days of the Earth's orbit. However for people both modern and ancient, the Vernal Equinox marked the transition from winter into spring. The Vernal Equinox occurs on March 20th or 21st and is one of two days during the year when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, the other day is the Autumnal Equinox.
People have been marking and celebrating the Vernal Equinox for thousands of years. The Great Sphinx which was constructed over 4500 years ago on the Giza Plateau in Egypt, faces due east on the Vernal Equinox. The monoliths located at Stonehenge, which are estimated to be over 3000 years old, mark the position of the rising sun on the Vernal Equinox. In Central America the Ancient Mayan Caracol Tower and Temples of the Sun and Moon also have alignments that coincide with the sun's position on the Vernal Equinox.
Most historians believe that this knowledge was important to ancient cultures in choosing a time to plant their crops. In Iran they celebrate Norouz (which roughly translates to "new day") on the Vernal Equinox. In China they celebrate Chunfen on the Vernal Equinox. In ancient Europe they celebrated the arrival of the goddess of spring Ostara on this day. Ostara was also known as Ostera and Eostre in different parts of Europe. Many historians believe the Christian holiday Easter gets its name from Eostre, as she had an enchanted rabbit that could lay eggs. In more modern times the Vernal Equinox marked the first Earth Day celebration in 1971.
One of the odd traditions that that occur on the Vernal Equinox is egg balancing. The story goes that it is possible to balance a raw egg on its oblong end on this day. There is no truth to this rumor it's just as easy (or hard) to balance an egg on its end on this day as it is any other day. This story is perpetuated by the media who usually run a small segment on it, during news shows on this day.
Stonehenge Stone Circle