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First day of fall: Why the equinox isn’t as equal as you might think

Twice a year, everyone on Earth is seemingly on equal footing — at least when it comes to the distribution of light and dark.

On Wednesday, September 22, we enter our second and final equinox of 2021. If you reside in the Northern Hemisphere, you know it as the fall equinox (or autumnal equinox). For people south of the equator, this equinox actually signals the coming of spring. Folks really close to the equator have roughly 12-hour days and 12-hour nights all year long, so they won’t really notice a thing. But people close to the poles, in destinations such as the northern parts of Canada, Norway and Russia, go through wild swings in the day/night ratio each year. They have long, dark winters and then have summers where night barely intrudes.

But during equinoxes, everyone from pole to pole gets to enjoy a 12-hour split of day and night. Well, there’s just one rub — it isn’t as perfectly “equal” as you may have been told. There’s a good explanation (SCIENCE!) for why you don’t get precisely 12 hours of daylight on the equinox. More on that farther down in the article. But first, here are the answers to your other fall equinox questions: Where does the word ‘equinox’ come from?

The equinox will arrive at 19:21 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) September 22. For people in places such as Toronto and Washington, DC, that’s 3:21 p.m. local time. Out West in Los Angeles and Vancouver, that means it arrives at 12:21 p.m. For residents of Madrid, Berlin and Cairo, it comes precisely at 9:21 p.m. Going farther east, Dubai marks the exact event at 11:21 p.m. As we move even farther eastward into Asia, we end up switching days. For residents of Bangkok, it’s 2:21 a.m. Thursday, September 23, while Singapore and Hong Kong clock in at 3:21 a.m. You can click here to see more cities (rounded down by one minute and adjusted for Daylight Saving Time).