Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Equatorial Equinox

Alright, science nerds.  This post's for you.  Living on the equator is pretty cool for lots of reasons - some of which I hope we've elaborated thoroughly enough in previous posts.  But, I 'm pretty sure no one is as happy here as those who, more than anything, miss middle-school science labs.

You know who you are.  You still think that the coolest Birthday gifts are "kits" of some sort - chemistry sets, slides and microscopes for examining tree leaves, telescopes with star charts, spy tools that let you build motion sensors for your bedroom door.  My dad even got me a robotics kit once that required I use a soldering iron and a circuit board to build a "bug" that could follow a flashlight around a dark room.  (I may or may not have been in my mid-twenties for that one...)

What I Did on Christmas Vacation

For anyone who thinks all those things are super-cool and forewent cigarettes for Bunsen burners in high school - the best part of living on the equator are all the naturally-occurring scientific phenomenon that you can try to test out for yourself.

For example, you probably knew - or could have guessed - that at the equator we have the most equal days and nights of anywhere on the planet.  As your days shorten for Winter (leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder and other such medical maladies) and lengthen for Summer (causing the kids with parents strict on bedtimes, regardless of the amount of light outside, the greatest of jealous pangs) - ours plod on at just about dead even.  Twelve hours for the day and twelve for the night.

But even cooler - we have the shortest transitions between day and night.  It can actually get dark here in mere minutes, thus making shows like The Twilight Zone (or that crappy vampire book that I hate) a little tougher to translate since we hardly have a twilight at all.

But the best time of all - the equinox.  Get this - we all know that the sun doesn't rise perfectly in the East and set perfectly in the West.  As the year goes on, it moves further North or South.  Of course, from the US, we're looking at a teeny-tiny, highly skewed variation of this.  But, on the equator - the sun actually passes directly overhead twice a year - supposedly causing us to cast no shadow at all.

We tried it out.  It was a little disappointing as we still cast small shadows (we're 34 minutes or so north of zero) - but we did initiate Phase 2 of our little experiment - tracking an analemma, the figure 8 shaped path of the sun over the course of the year.  The equinox is a great time for the kick-off of this because we're right in the middle of the figure 8.

Bet you didn't know that thing on the globe was something you could measure yourself!

Being huge nerds, we're sacrificing a bit of what was to be our sports field to track the analemma this year.  You can too!  I'll be honest though, it probably won't be as cool as ours because, chances are, you're not living on (or very near to) the equator.

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