America’s Northernmost City Just Witnessed Its Last Sunset For 2019
“This happens every year,” says CNN meteorologist Judson Jones. “If you live above the Arctic Circle, there will be a day when the sun sets for the rest of the winter. The good news? It will return and then during the summer when it won’t set for days.”
Utqiagvik’s extended polar night (when the night lasts more than 24 hours) can be attributed to its location at the “top of the world” — a mere 1,300 miles (2,100 km) south of the North Pole. To put it in perspective, only 2.6% of the Earth’s surface lies as far and farther from the equator as Utqiagvik!
Since the Earth revolves around the Sun at a 23.5-degreeangle, the polar regions are tilted away from the Sun during the winter months. For the North Pole, that period extends from September to March, while for the South Pole, it falls between March and September.
However, though the 4,000 residents of Utqiagvik, or Barrow, as it was previously called, will not see the Sun, they will not have to endure pitch dark days either. That’s because the Sun’s rays will curve around the Earth and be visible above the horizon. This is similar to what we experience during sunrise, when the light can be seen long before the sun emerges.
The so-called”civil twilight” will appear in beautiful hues of blue, orange, and pink due to the scattering of the sun’s rays through the Earth’s atmosphere. It will last six hours initially but will shrink to about three in mid-December as the North Pole moves further away from the Sun. Utqiagvik residents will, of course, be amply rewarded for surviving the dark days come summer when the “midnight sun” will stay overhead for an astounding 81 days – from May 11 to July 31, 2020.
For those brave enough to withstand the below-freezing winter temperatures, Utqiagvik’s polar night is a perfect time to observe the intense Northern Lights. Also known as Aurora borealis, the spectacular swirls of green, blue, yellow, or pink that shimmer and pulsate across the night sky are the result of ionized particles near the Earth’s poles colliding with charged particles from the sun.
Though Utqiagvik is the first Alaskan town to experience the polar night each year, it is not the only one. Over the next few weeks, Kaktovik, Point Hope, and Anaktuvuk Pass residents will also bid farewell to the sun for a few months. The Nordic nations of Finland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as parts of northern Scotland, also experience the phenomenon, albeit for a shorter time.