Imagine a place where the sun shines well past midnight, and night is determined only by the thickness of your curtains. For people living in the northern and southernmost regions of the world, this is their reality. In the far north, it can start as early as March and end as late as September. You might have heard about this phenomenon known as midnight sun. So, what is midnight sun exactly?
What is Midnight Sun?
Midnight sun, sometimes referred to as polar day, is a natural event that occurs in the northern and southernmost extremes of the world. It is a phenomena where the sun remains visible even at local midnight.
The degree to which a person will experience this happening depends a lot on where in the world they are. The closer one is to the north or south pole, the more occurrences of midnight sun they will experience. In fact, at the poles themselves, the sun rises and sets only once each year on the equinox. A person at the north pole during this time of endless daylight would notice the sun moving in continuous circles, eventually reaching its highest point of the sky at the summer solstice.
But midnight sun isn’t just a polar event. At least once a year at any location within the Arctic or Antarctic circles (and some places nearby), the sun is visible at local midnight. The number of days per year with potential midnight sun increases the closer one gets to either pole.
Because humans don’t live within the Antarctic Circle permanently, the countries and territories most likely to experience midnight sun are those near the Arctic Circle. Countries like Canada, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia, as well as territories like Alaska and Greenland, all experience midnight sun. The opposite of this, known as polar night, occurs during the winter months of these countries.
How Does Midnight Sun Work?
The reason midnight sun occurs is due to the way the Earth is tilted on its axis. If Earth’s axis ran straight up and down, there would be more or less 12 hours of daylight followed by 12 hours of night everywhere in the world, everyday (and there would be no seasons). This isn’t the case, however, as the Earth tilts at about 23.4 degrees.
Due to this axial tilt, the sun never sets at high latitudes during summer. On the summer solstice, the sun remains visible for 24 hours everywhere at the polar circle. As you move closer to the pole, the sun remains visible for longer. For example, one might observe several weeks of continuous sun 60 miles from the pole.
In places that experience midnight sun, it is not uncommon for people to go on hikes at 1:00 AM or run errands in the middle of the night. During these months in Fairbanks, Alaska, the annual midnight sun amateur baseball game is held. This tradition has lasted 113 years, starting at 10:30 PM and ending sometime around 1:30 AM.
How Midnight Sun Affects Sleep Cycles
How do people sleep when light is shining in through their windows 24 hours a day? The answer is simple: blackout curtains. Joking aside, while it is an easy task to draw the blinds when it is time to go to sleep, the constant source of light can still affect sleep patterns.
Circadian rhythm is the natural cycle our bodies go through in a 24 hour period that tells us when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. As you can imagine this gets a little messed up during the months of midnight sun. To help combat this, scientists say it’s necessary to be in a period of darkness for at least an hour before going to bed so that your body begins to produce melatonin. Some scientists even recommend that people wear sunglasses in the early evening to start this process.
Why Residents Like Midnight Sun
While it might not sound ideal for those who like having equal parts day and night, the residents in these northern cities seem to have fully embraced the midnight sun. In many of these places, festivals and annual traditions help mark this unique time of year.
The array of colors that come with polar days are spectacular, and if you’re looking to explore a majestic countryside, there’s no better time than the middle of the night, when no one else is around and the twilight coloring allows you to see things in a different light.