Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Geography and Why Eggs Stand Up: No Relationship

Today (or tomorrow depending on where you live on planet Earth) is the start of Spring.  During the spring/fall equinox people will attempt to stand eggs up claiming that the Earth's unique tilt creates the forces needed for this feat to be necessary.  As a geographer I am sometimes asked what geographical or astronomical variables make egg standing possible.  The answer is clear: no geographical/astronomical forces are at play.  Eggs can stand up any time of year as long as the bottom has bumps on them.

So where does the legend of the equinox and eggs standing up come from?  According to the excellent Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" by Philip Plait, the myth's introduction to the Western world comes from a Life magazine article entitled "The Mystery of the Upright Eggs Dissolves War Tension in China" published on March 19, 1945.

The article states that the local Chinese believe eggs can stand up an hour before and after the start of Spring.  However, traditional Asian Spring is not the same as solar/Western Spring.  Traditional Asian Spring, Lichun, occurs around February 4th or 5th.  Lichun is based on the sun's location in the sky, unlike Western spring which is based on the tilt of the Earth.

The myth remained little known until neopagan and artist/activist Donna Henes obtained media notice for her public egg balancing acts for "world peace."  The event was soon picked up by educators and the public who did not know the truth.

6 comments:

Dan tdaxp said...

Don't forget the wise neighbor Wilson on Home Improvement, who taught that as a science lesson!

natthedem said...

Are you saying I was misled by The West Wing?

Yosef said...

What should be understood about when seasons start is that whereas the Western astronomical spring started just now and the East Asian solar spring started all the way back in early February, meteorological spring started March 1. In my opinion, the most relevant seasonal start date is the meteorological one, since when we talk about seasons, we think above all of the weather relevant for the season. So for spring, for example, spring-like weather occurs most frequently from around March 10 to around May 20. The start of the East Asian spring (i.e. much of February) still has winter weather, and the end of May and much of June are "officially" in Western astronomical spring but have more summer-like weather. Besides which, in places like Australia, a lot of people classify seasons on a popular level according to the meteorological definitions. So really, it's been the spring season for three weeks now.

Tara Obeck said...

Haha! I also wonder for this one. Glad you shared the background of this legend. Yes, eggs can stand up any time of year as long as the bottom has bumps on them. It was fun. :)

Catholicgauze said...

Natthedem,

West Wing endorsed the Peter's Projection map, heresy!

Catholicgauze said...

Yosef,
Thanks for sharing!