The March 2016 equinox – the Northern Hemisphere’s spring or vernal equinox and the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn equinox – falls at 4:30 Universal Time on Sunday, March 20, 2016. For United States’ time zones, that’s 12:30 a.m. EDT – but on March 19 at 11:30 p.m. CDT, 10:30 p.m. MDT or 9:30 p.m. PDT. Twice a year – on the days of the March and September equinoxes – everyone worldwide supposedly receives 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. However, there is actually more daylight than nighttime on the day of the equinox. There are two reasons why:
Keeping reading to understand more about why …
It’s not pointlike, as stars are, and yet – by definition – most almanacs regard sunrise as when the leading edge of the sun first touches the eastern horizon. They define sunset as when the sun’s trailing edge finally touches the western horizon.
This in itself provides an extra 2.5 to 3 minutes of daylight at mid-temperate latitudes.
Atmospheric refraction. The Earth’s atmosphere acts like a lens or prism, uplifting the sun about 0.5o from its true geometrical position whenever the sun nears the horizon. Coincidentally, the sun’s angular diameter spans about 0.5o, as well.
Therefore, atmospheric refraction advances the sunrise and delays the sunset, adding nearly another 6 minutes of daylight at mid-temperate latitudes.
Astronomical almanacs usually don’t give sunrise or sunset times to the second. That’s because atmospheric refraction varies somewhat, depending on air temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. Lower temperature, higher humidity and higher barometric pressure all increase atmospheric refraction.
On the day of the equinox, the center of the sun would set about 12 hours after rising – given a level horizon, as at sea, and no atmospheric refraction.
Bottom line: There are two reasons why we have more than 12 hours of daylight on the day of equinox. First, the sun is a disk, not a point of light. Second, the Earth’s atmosphere refracts (bends) sunlight. These factors add up to provide an additional 8 or so minutes of daylight on the day of the equinox at mid-temperate latitudes.