The autumnal equinox falls this week, meaning the UK will then get more hours of darkness than daylight as the winter approaches.

While the phenomenon may not be as famous as the summer solstice, it still carries significance for many, such as the pagans who mark the date with the Mabon harvest festival.

For others it marks the start of autumn, although there are actually two different ways of calculating the season’s dates – here’s everything you need to know.

When is the first day of autumn 2022?

What you class as autumn’s first day depends on whether you use the meteorological or the astronomical definition of the seasons.

The meteorological system is the simpler of the two. It splits the year into four seasons of three full months each based on the Gregorian calendar, which makes it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics.

So every year, autumn lasts from 1 September until 30 November, with winter then kicking off at the beginning of December.

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain (R) conducts a ceremony as druids, pagans and revellers gather in the centre at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a autumn equinox celebrations at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury on September 23, 2017 in Wiltshire, England. Several hundred people gathered at sunrise ar the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument, to celebrate the equinox which is a specific moment in time that occurs twice a year when the Earth tilts neither towards (summer) or away (winter) from the sun in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Although yesterday marked the actual meteorological calendar change from summer to autumn, for druids, the following dawn is when they celebrate 'the dawning of the new season' following the day of equal night, which it is named after. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Pagans still gather for the autumnal equinox at Stonehenge every year (Photo: Getty Images)

Under the meteorological calendar, spring then always encompasses March to May, with summer lasting from the start of June until the end of August.

The astronomical season uses the date of the autumnal equinox as the season’s first day, which means it can change from year to year.

In 2022, the equinox falls on Friday 23 September, but it can be any position between 22nd and 24th of the month.

According to this system, the autumn then gives way to winter on the date of the winter solstice, which this year falls on Wednesday 21 December.

Astronomically speaking, this year’s summer began on Tuesday 21 June, the date of the summer solstice.

What is the autumnal equinox?

Equinoxes get their name from the Latin for “equal night”, and denote the only two points in the year when the equator is the closest part of Earth to the sun.

In theory, this means that everywhere on the planet should get 12 hours of daylight and darkness on those days, although this is complicated slightly by the Earth’s atmosphere affecting the way we see sunlight.

If you were to view the sun from the equator on the day, it would theoretically rise exactly due east, and set due west.

The actual date when the timings are equal is referred to as the equilux, and falls a few days before the spring equinox and a few days after the autumn equinox.

More on Autumn

For six months each of the year, either the northern or southern hemisphere is pointing slightly towards the sun, bringing the warmer temperatures of spring and summer.

Although the summer and winter solstices are perhaps more commonly associated with ancient celebrations, the equinoxes also carry significance for people across the world.

The autumn equinox is closely associated with the harvest, with the UK’s traditional harvest festival falling on the Sunday of the full moon closest to its position in the calendar.

As part of the pagan festival of Mabon, animals would be slaughtered and preserved at the equinox, in order to provide enough food for the oncoming winter.

Just like for the summer and winter solstices, druids still gather at Stonehenge to mark the autumn equinox, watching the sun rise above the famous stones

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