If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to witness the midnight sun as it bobbles above the northern horizon you’ll agree that it’s a rather special sight. Our sun is not supposed to behave like that!
Here’s a clip from the BBC of a polar ‘sunset’, accompanied perfectly by the haunting sounds of Pink Floyd:
So just how far north do you need to go to experience this most majestic of natural phenomena? Well, the further above the Arctic circle you are, the longer the midnight sun will last. For example, if you’re standing on the Arctic Circle itself you’ll witness the midnight sun on the summer equinox and a day or two either side (maybe June 20-23); travel up to Tromso a few hundred kilometres north and the longest day lasts from the 18th of May to the 26th July. On the Norwegian outpost of Svalbard the sun rises in late April and doesn’t set again until the end of August!
It is a strange sensation to wander through a town in the middle of the night in broad daylight. I experienced the midnight sun first in Narvik as a backpacking teenager and remember feeling quite disorientated coming out of a bar at 2am and seeing the sunshine (I blame this feeling on the midnight sun but that may be only part of the story). It was also quite difficult to get to sleep knowing that it was daytime outside.
As a visitor there are obvious benefits to 24 hour daylight. You can sit outdoors and admire the views all night long (and it does get warmer up there than you might expect); and travelling from place to place even on some of the more rural dirt-tracks is far less daunting in good light.
Of course, the residents of these northern regions pay the price for their summer solar excess in the winter when the sun disappears for the corresponding length of time. Visiting at these times is harsh unless you come with the express reason of seeing the northern lights or just experiencing the endless winter night.
The midnight sun is a strange quirk that’s down to the earth’s axial tilt (let’s leave the technical stuff at that). It’s well worth observing at least once in your lifetime and there’s an added bonus to making the journey to the land where the sun doesn’t set. The polar regions happen to boast some of the most stunning areas of natural beauty on the planet.
by Andy Jarosz