This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to travel to Alaska. Among the many wonders there, the midnight sun filled me with awe. Contrary to popular belief, the midnight sun is not a high-noon sun. Rather, it is a prolonged sunset that paints the heavens in reds, pinks, and oranges. Northernmost areas, much like Alaska, take in the most sunlight in the summer in comparison to everywhere else on Earth because the sun never sets. However, they are also filled with dark winter days because the sun doesn’t rise during that time.

Why Do We Have Midnight Suns?

We experience this phenomenon because the Earth is tilted at approximately 23 degrees as it orbits around the sun. This causes the northern hemisphere of the Earth to face the sun in the summer months and face away from the sun in the winter months. However, above 66 degrees latitude is an area called the Arctic Circle. In the Arctic Circle, the sun is so high in the horizon that it cannot fully set on the summer solstice (June 21). This occurs because the sun travels at a 360-degree circle through the sky. When it dips below the horizon, it still casts a bright twilight sunset through a process called refraction. Refraction occurs when the sun’s light waves are slightly bent by the molecules in the atmosphere so, even when the sun is set, we can still see it in the sky. Thus, the summer solstice serves as the longest day of the year because the Earth is most directly pointed at the sun on that day.

On the other hand, the sun is too low on the horizon during the winter months that it does not rise on the winter solstice (December 21). In contrast to the summer solstice, the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. Therefore, in some non-arctic areas, the winter solstice marks the day with least amount of sunlight. However, in arctic areas, the sun often never rises.

Furthermore, the amount of sunlight is enhanced the further north you travel. The northernmost areas have the most hours of sunlight in the summer, but they also have the darkest winters. For example, in Juneau, Alaska, they receive 18.2 hours of sunlight. However, if you travel north to Fairbanks, they have 22 hours of daylight.

Where Do Midnight Suns Occur?

The Arctic Circle is the invisible line that marks the southernmost area that experienced the midnight sun. Most of the countries that experience this phenomenon are located on the Arctic Circle. Collectively, these countries are called “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” Nunavut, Canadian Yukon, and Northwest territories including Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the state of Alaska are all located in this region.


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