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About the spring & fall equinoxes

Non-religious beliefs
related to the equinox

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Egg-balancing belief:

There is a rumor that surfaces twice a year at the time of the spring and fall equinoxes.  Many people believe that since the equinox is a time of balance where the daylight hours and nighttime hours are equal, that -- by some mystical force -- one can balance eggs on their end on these days. Some believe that one can only balance an egg within a few hours before or after the exact time of the equinox. 1

Philip Plait (a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer) writes: "Usually you cannot stand a raw egg because the inside of an egg is a very viscous (thick) liquid, and the yolk sits in this liquid. The yolk is usually a bit off-center and rides high in the egg, making it very difficult to balance. The egg falls over. However, with patience, you can usually make an egg stand up. It may take a lot of patience!" He has a photo on his web site that shows himself and three eggs standing on their end. 2

Being able to stand an egg on its end is clearly determined by the internal structure of the egg, gravity, condition of the surface of the egg at its end, the condition of the surface that the egg is being balanced on, how level the surface is, etc. None of these factors have anything to do with the passage of the seasons. So, a person probably has as much luck standing an egg on its end on the equinox as on any other day of the year.

Plait reports that only a small percentage of eggs can be balanced. He believes that the successfully balanced eggs have small irregularities that act as miniature legs and prop up the egg.

The Textbook League suggests that this belief originated in China where it is believed that an egg is easy on Li Chun -- the first day of spring. This happens in February, about six weeks before the vernal equinox. Apparently some New Yorkers took this belief, attached it to the spring equinox. 3,4

Needless to say, balancing an egg on it stubby end is a lot easier than on its pointed end.

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Scientists speculate about "self-moving objects" on the equinox:

Isaac Newton's second law states that force on an object produces acceleration according to the equation F = MA, where F is force, M is the mass of the object, and A is the accelleration. The first year physics in university is often described as studying two laws: F = MA and "you cannot push on a rope." Newton's Laws imply that if there is no force, there is no acceleration, and the object remains stationary.

A minority of scientists are speculating that Newton's laws may have to be modified under certain conditions. They propose a revised theory called modified Newtonian dynamics" or MOND which only applies at extremely low accelerations.

Alex Ignatiev of the Theoretical Physics Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, suggests that in places where there is nearly zero acceleration with respect to the center of our galaxy, MOND may be detectable. He calculated that there are two locations on the surface of the Earth where the earth's spin, rotation and orbital velocity cancel out twice a year -- on the equinoxes. These spots are briefly near zero acceleration with respect to our galaxy center. On 2008-SEP-22, one location would be in northern Greenland at 7950' N and about 56" W. He calculated that an object might brifly shift by one fifth of a trillionth of a millimeter before returning to its original location a fraction of a second later. He believes that gravitational wave detectors could detect such a movement. 5

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Von Del Chamberlain, "Equinox Means Balanced Light, Not Balanced Eggs," at: http://www.clarkfoundation.org/
  2. Philip Plait, "Standing an egg on end on the Spring Equinox," at: http://www.badastronomy.com/
  3. William Bennetta, "Eggs a la Dumb," Editor's File, The Textbook Letter, 1996-MAY/Jun at: http://www.textbookleague.org/
  4. Martin Gardner, "The Great Egg-Balancing Mystery," Skeptical Inquirer, 1996 May/Jun, at: http://www.findarticles.com/
  5. "Could self-moving objects explain away 'dark matter'?" World Science, 2007-MAR-20, at: http://www.world-science.net/

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Copyright 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-23
Latest update: 2007-MAR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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