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Countdown for Equinox: 23 Degrees needs you!

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Stephen Marsh Stephen Marsh | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 8 March 2011

d ~ 172'377'600 km: day 67

On our annual journey around the Sun we are approaching a particular significant day: March 20th known as the Vernal or Spring Equinox. For many of us who live in cities, largely divorced from nature this day may have little significance. But for those who are still attuned to the changing seasons, the spring equinox is an important time in our relationship with the Sun.

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Equinox means 'equal night' in Latin. On this day the hours of light and darkness are of equal length, so wherever you are on the planet you will get 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. But it's also a moment of change. On the day of the equinox the planet is in a sense in "neutral", each hemisphere poised at the mid point of its journey between summer and winter - at least in terms of solar radiation. But then the Earth shifts slightly further around the sun, and everything changes. In the northern hemisphere that means longer and longer days and more and more solar energy. Meanwhile the southern hemisphere will face shorter and shorter days, beginning its descent into winter.

For centuries the equinox has been a time of celebration.

In the UK, Druids will gather at Stonehenge. They come to celebrate the ancient Saxon goddess Eostre who represents new beginnings and fertility.

In Japan they mark the equinox with Shunbun No Hi a traditional holiday to mark the arrival of spring. They eat the "nightingale cake" made from sticky rice filled with a sweet white bean paste.

The festival of Nowruz which is Farsi for "new year" has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. It originated in ancient Persia, now modern day Iran, as the Zoroastrian New Year. It signifies the renewal of nature and life itself and is celebrated by the purification rite of fire jumping. The ashes from the fire - which represent the hardships of the previous year - are thrown away, to banish the hardships of the winter.

In Poland they celebrate the spring equinox by burning an effigy of Marzanna - a goddess associated with winter - and then drowning it. By destroying the winter goddess, the people put the long, dark days of winter behind them and welcome the warmth and light of spring.

The 23 Degrees team will experience the equinox at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Along with around 60,000 modern day pilgrims we'll watch the sun rise at the temple of Kukalcan. The temple is specifically designed to mark the equinox. It is perfectly aligned so that on this particular day the Sun's rays cast a shadow down the pyramid stairs. This shadow creates the body of a snake, Kukulcan, the Maya feathered serpent who was a divine messenger between Gods and man.

The 23 Degrees team would love to hear and see where you celebrate the equinox, whether it's in the city, in the country, in fact anywhere on the planet. If you take photos of equinox celebrations why not add it to the BBC 23 Degrees pool and email us your videos - it could even be a photo of the sun rising on the morning of equinox where ever you are. Let's build a global picture!

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