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What Is Midnight Sun or Polar Day?

Midnight sun is when at least a part of the Sun's disk is visible above the horizon 24 hours of the day.

Midnattsol ved Nordkapp.

Midnight Sun at North Cape, Norway.

Midnight Sun means that at least a sliver of the Sun's disk is visible above the horizon for 24 hours, including at midnight.

©bigstockphoto.com/Kartouchken

The scientific name for midnight Sun is polar day and the opposite is polar night.

No Sunset or Sunrise

As the upper edge of the solar disc disappears below the horizon, the Sun has set, and there is no longer midnight Sun.

The moment the solar disc again becomes visible above the horizon, it is sunrise.

Where Is There Midnight Sun?

Even though Norway is known as the "Land of the midnight Sun" in the tourist industry, there is midnight Sun in several other countries in the Northern Hemisphere: USA (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland, Finland, and Sweden.

Clouds Obscure the Sun

That the Sun is visible above the horizon does not mean that the Sun is shining. Clouds and fog hide the Sun, day or night, and the midnight Sun is only visible weather permitting.

Starts on the North Pole

In the Northern Hemisphere, the midnight Sun starts on the North Pole as the Sun rises around the vernal (spring) equinox in March. Then there is midnight Sun for about six months. The Sun sets again around the autumnal (fall) equinox in September, entering six months of polar night.

Illustration image
The summer solstice in June.
The midnight Sun is at its max on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

As the Sun rises higher in the sky on the North Pole day by day, the midnight Sun gradually expands south until it reaches just south of the polar circle around the beginning of June.

Refraction Bends the Light

One of the reasons that the midnight Sun doesn't end directly on the polar circle, but can also be seen a little further south, is refraction; The fact that light bends when it hits Earth's atmosphere. Refraction makes the Sun visible above the horizon several minutes before it actually gets there.

Changes after Solstice

After the summer solstice in June, the midnight sun reverses, and gradually moves north again until the Sun finally sets on the North Pole, around the autumnal equinox in September.

Famous Bryggen street in Bergen Norway
White Night in Bergen, Norway.
During the summer, there are white nights, but not midnight Sun, in Bergen, Norway.
©bigstockphoto.com/Nik_Sorokin

White Nights

24 hours of light is perfectly possible without midnight Sun, because it does not get dark as soon as the Sun sets. Before night falls, there are three stages of twilight - civil, nautical and astronomical. During the summer, many areas south of where the midnight Sun can be seen, have what is known as white nights. Nights which are light, but the Sun's disk isn't visible for the enitre night.

Opposite in the Southern Hemisphere

In the Southern Hemisphere, it is opposite. There are polar nights when the Northern Hemisphere has polar days. The only landmass far enough south in the Southern Hemisphere to have midnight Sun, is Antarctica.

Topics: Astronomy, Sun, Seasons

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Midnight Sun & Polar Night

  1. Midnight Sun / Polar Day
  2. Polar Night

Sun & Moon Index



Vernal & Autumnal Equinox

  1. Vernal (Spring) Equinox
  2. Autumnal (Fall) Equinox
  3. March Equinox
  4. 10 Facts: March Equinox
  5. March Equinox Celebrations
  6. September Equinox
  7. 10 Facts: September Equinox
  8. September Equinox Celebrations
  9. Nearly Equal Night & Day

Equinox & Solstice Worldwide


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