RICHMOND, Va. -- The vernal equinox, which is the astronomical start to Spring, occurs at 11:49 p.m. EDT Thursday, March 19. This marks the earliest vernal equinox since 1896!
The equinox marks when the sun's direct rays are over the equator.
The vernal equinox typically occurs on March 20 or 21. Due to the timing differences stemming from the calendar, and the need for leap years, this astronomical event occurs on March 19th for all times zone in the United States this year.
Coordinate Universal Time (UTC) is the time that time zones are based on. We are four hours behind UTC during Daylight Saving Time (DST), and five hours the rest of the year. So this year, the equinox is 03:49 UTC.
During our last leap year in 2016, the equinox occurred at 04:30 UTC, or 12:30 a.m. EDT. on March 20. It did fall on the 19th for the central, mountain and pacific time zones in the United States.
In 1896, the equinox occurred at 02:23 UTC, which equates to 10:23 p.m. EDT. We did not use DST then, so it would equate to 9:23 p.m.
In March 2028, the equinox will occur at 02:18 UTC, which will be 10:18 p.m. EDT.
The equinoxes during the following leap years will continue to get earlier.