Summer brings 24-hour daylight to Alaska

Days will start getting shorter rapidly over next few weeks


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The motto of Alaska is ''the land of the midnight sun.'' Being so close to the summer solstice (June 20th), places north of the Arctic circle are experiencing full sunlight 24 hours a day.

Now that's a head scratcher. Why does the sun never set? That's like....weird, right?

As seen in the picture above, it's a foggy, cloudy day in Barrow, Alaska. At first look, it appears to be sometime in the morning there; perhaps 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. Perfect, still time to grab Chick-Fil-A breakfast. As you hop in your car to head to the restaurant, you'd quickly realize upon arrival that Chick-Fil-A is closed being that it is after midnight. Check out the time in the bottom left corner. The pic was taken at 12:20 a.m. by the University of Alaska - Fairbanks.

So why does the sun never set on top of the world during summer and why does the sun never rise at the bottom of the world this time of year?

The answer lies in the Earth's tilt, the same reason we have seasons. 

First, the use of the word "never" is certainly a tongue-in-cheek statement. The sun does rise and set at both poles -- eventually. 

Take a look at the graphic below provided by NASA:

The Earth is tilted at approximately 23 degrees. Not only does the Earth rotate about its axis, the cause day and night but it also rotates around the sun as well all the while keeping the same tilt. This gives way to the seasons. That means in the summer time, the northern hemisphere is pointed directly at the sun and the southern hemisphere is pointed away from the sun. This is why the seasons are reversed. When it's summer in the United States it's winter in Australia. 

As the Earth blazes a trail around the Sun at approximately 67,000 mph, there is a period of time in the summer in the far northern reaches of the Earth where the sun can't set nor can the sun rise at the south pole. 

It doesn't last forever though. The sun rises at Barrow on June 12th and does not set again until August 2nd. Once the sun sets on that day, they will have regular sun rises and sun sets until November when the sun won't rise again until after the new year.

It should be noted that not all of Alaska has 24 hour daylight in the summer. You'd have to be north of the Arctic circle in order to experience that and only about a third of the state extends that far north. However, their length of day is far longer than it is here in Florida because we're much further south.

A little closer to home, the time of this entry on June 28th, the days here in Jacksonville are near maximum length but are beginning to shorten now as well. 

Take a look at the sunset times for Jacksonville provided by TimeandDate:

As of June 28th, we're losing a mere 17 seconds a day but as time goes on we'll be losing more and more time as the seconds per day turn to minutes per day of lost daylight. We'll continue to shed time until the winter solstice on December 21st. At that time, the days will once again begin to lengthen and the cycle repeats.