Link #49: The Sun Shines for Six Months in the Arctic Circle!


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Link #49: The Sun Shines for Six Months in the Arctic Circle!

The midnight sun at Nordkapp, Norway. Image credit: Yan Zhang GFDL v1.2

The Frozen Ocean or the Arctic Ocean is the smallest ocean in the world but it’s still bigger than most nations on the planet. However, having the smallest ocean isn’t the strangest thing about the Arctic Circle. The strangest thing about the Arctic Circle is that for six months every year, the sun doesn’t set there.

That’s right, if you were living in the right place within the Arctic Circle, you’d have to go to sleep while the sun is brightening up the sky. Similarly, there are times when you’d have to go through your whole day without seeing a bit of sunlight! How is this possible? Let’s find out.

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Which Places Never See a Sunset and Which Don’t See Sunrises?

Midnight Sun Altafjord
The Altafjord in Alta, Norway bathed in the Midnight Sun. By Vberger PD image

There are largely two regions where such a phenomenon occurs. The first is south of the Antarctic Circle and the other is north of the Arctic Circle. Since people don’t live below the Antarctic Circle (except for scientists and researchers), this phenomenon doesn’t affect many.

North of the Arctic Circle is where there are established human settlements and this is where the impact of this phenomenon is most felt. Essentially, eight nations of the world see this phenomenon. These are the United States of America, Canada, Sweden, Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Greenland.

In fact, the further you move towards the North Pole or even the South Pole, the more you’ll see days with full sunlight or no sunlight. At the poles themselves, you’ll only see one sunrise and one sunset for 365 days!

How Can the Sun Shine Continuously for Six Months?

Description of relations between Axial tilt (or Obliquity), rotation axis, plane of orbit, celestial equator and ecliptic. Earth is shown as viewed from the Sun; the orbit direction is counter-clockwise (to the left). Image credit: Dennis Nilsson cc3.0

A phenomenon where the sun doesn’t set for a full day is known as the Midnight Sun. When the exact opposite of this happens, i.e., the sun doesn’t rise for a full day, it is known as Polar Night.

In the majority of cases, these phenomena are equal and opposite in nature. Both the phenomena are completely natural and occur because of the spatial orientation of earth with respect to the sun.

The earth is not straight on its axis. It has a tilt of about 23 degrees and 27 minutes which means that the North Pole is tilted slightly towards the sun while the South Pole is tilted away.

Because of the tilt of the earth and the way it moves, the sun never gets a chance to go to the opposite side of the earth at the poles, and stays facing one side. This causes Midnight Sun while the side that doesn’t see the sun goes through a Polar Night.

What Would It Be Like to Experience the Midnight Sun?

seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder. Image credit: Evil Erin cc2.0

Both the Midnight Sun and the Polar Night have the capability to induce mental problems in people. While the Midnight Sun has been known to make people irritable, Polar Night has been known to cause depression in people.

However, these effects are mostly noted amongst people who are not native to the regions that see these phenomena. Effectively, it’s almost always visitors and tourists who face these problems. Therefore, if you plan on seeing the Midnight Sun or the Polar Night at least once in your lifetime, keep these facts in mind.

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