Barrow, Alaska, sees last sunset until early August

The Sun Won't Set Here Until August
The Sun Won't Set Here Until August -- Early Monday morning, the sun set briefly in Barrow, Alaska, something that won't be seen there again in more than two months.

At 2:09 a.m. ADT Monday, America's northernmost city saw the sun set for the last time until Aug. 2, ushering in an 82-day period during which areas north of the Arctic Circle never see the sun dip below the horizon.

Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Barrow took a photo just before the brief sunset early Monday morning. The sun rose back above the horizon just 28 minutes later, at 2:37 a.m. ADT.

During the northern hemisphere's spring and summer, the sun's most direct rays shine over areas between the equator and Tropic of Cancer, about 23.5 degrees north latitude.

Because the northern hemisphere tilts toward the sun in the spring and summer, areas north of the Arctic Circle – within 23.5 degrees of the North Pole – experience more than two months with the sun never dipping below the horizon, evoking the popular phrase "Land of the Midnight Sun".

Despite all this possible sunshine, Barrow's average highs reach a yearly peak of only 47 degrees in July, thanks to not only the northern latitude but to its proximity to the Arctic Ocean, which is covered in ice near the coast for much of the year. Barrow experiences 187 cloudy days a year, according to data from the National Climatic Data Center, because of dominant east winds off the ocean.

From mid-November through late January, the sun doesn't rise north of the Arctic Circle, due to the tilt of the Earth away from the sun's most direct radiation.

The opposite of this occurs from mid-November through late January, when the sun doesn't rise for roughly two months north of the Arctic Circle. In Barrow, this polar night will occur with the last sunset Nov. 19 until the sun pops above the horizon again Jan. 23.

It is a common misconception that Barrow and areas north of the Arctic Circle are completely dark during this period.

Civil twilight, defined as the point when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon, allows sufficient light to see objects outside. This civil twilight period is about six hours long near the beginning and ending of polar night, but shrinks to about three hours in the heart of the polar night just before Christmas.

Fairbanks, just south of the Arctic Circle, still sees sunrises and sunsets year-round. By the summer solstice around June 21, sunrise is as early as 2:59 a.m. ADT, a little over 2 hours after sunset at 12:47 a.m.

From May 17 to July 27, Fairbanks sees civil twilight 24 hours a day.

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