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Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall -- plus a cool place to visit on the equinox
Submitted by Tim Buckley on Wed, 09/22/2010 - 8:22am.
Well believe it or not, we've made it all the way through summer. In just a few hours, it's onto fall. But it appears a change in seasons will not be signaling a change in weather.
Yes, our afternoon highs will continue to not acknowledge the calendar and soar well through the 80's. In fact, it looks like several 90 degree days are a good bet through the weekend as a warm southerly flow continues to stream in from the Gulf.
So did you ever wonder why the seasons have an exact start time? For example, Fall doesn't officially begin until 11:09 this evening - not 11:08 or 11:11 ... 11:09. That's not just meteorologists messing with you, there is a reason.
The seasons are defined based upon solar patterns. Two days a year, we have what's called an equinox. At the exact moment of the equinox, the sun's path lies directly overhead of the equator. The vernal equinox signals the end of winter and the start of spring, while the autumnal equinox signals the end of summer and the beginning of fall.
The solstices occur twice a year as well, but instead find the sun's path at either it's northernmost or southernmost point. For example, the summer solstice finds the sun aligning with the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere - and is when we have our longest day. At the winter solstice, the sun is aligned with the Tropic of Capricorn and is farthest away from us, giving us our shortest day.
In Mexico, there's a special tradition that takes place twice a year on the equinox. Thousands of people gather at the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula to witness an age-old light display. The Mayans were extremely advanced when it came to astronomy, and that knowledge is showcased in their architecture.
The largest pyramid within the city, "El Castillo", pays tribute on each Equinox to the serpent god "Kulkukan" for which it was built. Twice a year, shadows from the corner of the temple will illuminate a cascading serpent down the staircase. You can see the snake like image in light in the picture above, with it's body shown along the staircase finishing with a sculpture of the snake's mouth at the base. It's hard to believe that a structure like this built nearly 1,000 years ago could have been constructed so that the shadows worked out perfectly on each equinox to create such a display.
Each year, thousands of people flock to the ruins in the spring and fall to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. Of course, this trip can be ruined easily if clouds prevent the shadows from being cast, but if they're visible it's quite a sight. If you ever take a trip to Cancun, Chichen Itza is a tour definitely worth seeing - only a two hour ride away from the beach.
That's it for now. Happy equinox, and enjoy the summer-like weather as we head into fall.
By: Tim Buckley