What's The Difference Between An Equinox And A Solstice?

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Difference Between An Equinox And A Solstice

The best seasons of the year are coming soon! No offense to summer and spring, but fall and winter just have that special certain something about them that we all love. And if we're being completely honest, they also take full ownership for all of the greatest annual holidays.

And although that first little chill in the air or that whiff of pumpkin spice that's now hitting you when you enter your morning coffee shop may set your fall/wintertime sensors on high alert, these things are not what signifies the start of a new season.

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The true official start of a season is indicated by a solstice or an equinox. 

While a solstice and equinox both have to do with the changing of seasons, they are very different from each other. So, what exactly is a solstice? And what's an equinox? And what's the difference between a solstice and equinox? 

What's a solstice?

It's going to be a long night. No, it really is. Because the winter solstice is always the longest night of the year and consequently, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. This is due to the fact that a solstice is characterized by days that have the least or the most daylight in a year.

The most northern and southern places on earth will experience even longer nights and days during a solstice. This occurs because the sun actually comes to a stop before it reverses its direction. A solstice can only happen when the path of the sun is at the absolute farthest point from the equator. "Solstice" is actually a Latin word that combines sol, meaning sun and sistere, meaning to stand still.

However, you didn't need to take Latin in high school to understand the meaning of a solstice. All you really need to know is that a solstice signals the beginning of the summer and winter seasons, hence why the longest day will always take place in the summer and the longest night in the winter. 

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What's an equinox?

An equinox is all about equality. When an equinox occurs, a day will have equal amounts of daylight and darkness. During an equinox, the sun will spend the same amount of time both below and above the horizon and the tilt of the earth. The sunlight and darkness equal out to 12 hours each throughout an equinox.

"Equinox" is also aptly derived from Latin. The term comes from the words aequus, meaning equal and nox, meaning night. 

Another big difference that separates an equinox from a solstice is that it occurs only when the sun is closest to the equator. The equator will pass through the center of the sun's disc when this event happens. An equinox covers the start of the other two seasons, spring and fall. In addition, equinoxes don't alter the length of day and night, like solstices do. 

When is the official first day of fall and winter 2018?

Don't break out the hot chocolate and cozy sweaters just yet. Fall doesn't officially start until September 22, even though the pumpkin spice latte in your hand may be telling you otherwise. The autumn equinox on September 22 is what marks the true start of fall.

The wait for the much-anticipated season will be worth it. You'll be able to enjoy fall for a full three months, because the first day of winter isn't until December 21. It may be a little hard to believe that winter doesn't actually begin until almost the end of December, but the winter solstice occurs on the 21st making that date the official start of the season.

However, it's perfectly fine if you want to start wearing your Christmas sweaters and singing about the most wonderful time of the year before that date — we totally won't judge those choices. 

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