The last Confederate general

It’s the first day of spring or the Vernal Equinox. Vernal Equinox — I like the sound of those words. They are certainly versatile and can sound like anything from an energy drink to a Confederate General.

“Muh name’s Gen. Vernal Equinox, suh and I would thank you not to speak to the lady disrespectfully.”

In reality the American Heritage dictionary defines the Vernal Equinox thusly; “The point at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator, the sun having a northerly motion — the moment when the sun passes through this point.”

Okay … so what’s “the ecliptic?” The answer is simply “the apparent path of the sun among the stars; the intersection plane of the earth’s solar orbit with the celestial sphere.”

Got that? — well, as in my case, maybe not. Anyway, it sounds pretty important — what with bazillions of tons of planet material and very hot star stuff moving about so precisely.

It all happened at 6:02 a.m. today. I had already been up for an hour. I didn’t feel a thing though there may have been some radio interference. Last week, when I asked at what time the Equinox would occur, I was told that it would be at 11:02 Universal Time which seems to be a new way of saying Greenwich Mean Time or the time of the Equinox at zero degrees longitude. Since all of this is happening on such a grand scale, the time zones on our noisy little orb are of no real consequence. I had to find the time zones on a world map and count back. Because of all this colossal shuffling about on this date, the day and the night will be of equal length.

Vernal just means that it’s all about spring, the long awaited season that began today. Sorry to be so long winded about it but it wasn’t my idea to have all these spheres and ecliptics prancing about. Moreover, the reader deserves to know what’s going on just outside our visible cosmic realm lest some scandal should erupt. These spheres and ecliptics exist as a result of Divine Law but are not held to any moral or ethical mandates — they need to be watched closely. To trust them implicitly would be foolhardy and lead us to possible rack and ruin.

But seriously, apart from the day and night being of equal length, there is no visible manifestation of the Vernal or Spring Equinox. This is in contrast to the Summer and Winter Solstices where we can observe the sun reversing lateral direction across the horizon. The equinox activity is invisible to us because we can’t see way down to the radio end of the spectrum — but the National Radio Observatory at Green Bank in Pocahontas County can.

I called the Green Bank Observatory expecting to hear how interference from the sun causes their screens to go blank for that moment and general chaos to reign there. Not so. Education Officer Sue Ann Heatherly (her name reminds me of a character from a novel set in the ante-bellum period — someone who might know a Confederate General) said that it’s just another day. Our orbit around the sun is more round than elliptic as I had understood so the emissions from the sun are pretty much constant except for periods of solar storms and sunspot activity. Unless you point the radio telescope directly at the sun, not a whole lot happens.

She went on to explain the Equinox in science-ese, which was no less mysterious than the dictionary’s explanation and left me out on my cosmic keister once again. She didn’t have a specific explanation for the commercial radio interference that always seems to happen around this time of year other than to suggest a possible yearly cycle of solar disruption.

Anyway, it’s spring. The sun is moving north on the horizon, but it still rises and sets in the Southern Hemisphere — any Confederate General that you might run across would likely agree.


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