Midnight Sun

A beautiful Alaskan sunset
Even Southcentral Alaska experiences long days near summer solstice.

Sunshine at midnight.
Alaska receives more sunlight in spring and summer than any other state and many other parts of the world. Does your home area have midnight sun? In Barrow, the state’s northernmost community, the sun does not set for more than two and a half months—from May 10 until August 2. (The contrast is from November 18 to January 24, when the sun never rises above the horizon!)

The real boundary of the midnight sun is the Arctic Circle, latitude 66 degrees, 33 minutes north. That imaginary line marks the lowest latitude at which the sun remains above the horizon for a full 24 hours during summer solstice (June 20 or 21) and below the horizon for a full 24 hours during winter solstice (December 21 or 22).

At the equator, the sun rises straight up from the horizon and sets straight down to it. In Alaska, the sun travels in a slanting 360 degree circle in the sky, so even if it's below the horizon, it's barely below it for a long period. This means that even though the sun isn't visible, we still receive very bright twilight that can last for hours or until the sun rises again. For example, Fairbanks, which is below the Arctic Circle by almost 200 miles, still receives 24 hours of light for a long period in the summer. Conversely, in winter, the sun may only be above the horizon for a few hours, but there are many more hours of visible light due to the very low arc the sun travels across the horizon.

Nearly one-third of Alaska lies above the Arctic Circle, but Alaskans are fairly informal about claiming they live with the midnight sun. All parts of the state enjoy long daylight hours in summer, even Ketchikan, the state’s southernmost population center, where there are more than 17 hours of daylight on June days.

Where to See Alaska’s Midnight Sun

Many tour companies operating out of Fairbanks offer bus, van, and airplane tours in summer to the Arctic Circle and beyond. On summer solstice, the longest day of the year, you can join local residents to watch the sun from traditional high-elevation viewpoints on Alaska highways. On the Steese Highway, good viewpoints are at Cleary Summit, 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks and Eagle Summit, 108 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Northwest of Fairbanks, on Sheep Creek Road, good viewpoints are Murphy Dome and Ester Dome. On the Taylor Highway from Tetlin Junction, views are good from several high points on Mount Fairplay. Many communities hold late-night celebrations—including a baseball game, fun run, and Midnight Sun golf scramble in Fairbanks.

How does it affect the environment...?

Hours of Sunlight Above the Horizon in Alaskan cities
    Spring Equinox Summer Solstice Fall Equinox Winter Solstice
Barrow 12 24 12 0
Fairbanks 12 21 12 4
Anchorage 12 19 12 6
Seward 12 18 12 7

University of Nebraska Lincoln Daylight Hours Explorer

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has created a flash program that offers a chance for you to compare the amount of daylight that inhabitants of different latitudes experience throughout the year. You can adjust the latitude and day of the year using the sliders. For some Alaskan examples, Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, is at a latitude of about 61° N, and Barrow, Alaska's Northernmost town is at a latitude of about 71° N. Compare the huge seasonal daylight hour fluctuations of Barrow with that of a city like Miami, Florida which sits at a latitude of only about 26° N. Visit the University of Alaska Daylight Hours Explorer

Learn about another cool sun phenomenon, the sun dog.

midnight sun from fairbanks alaska
Photo by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. December 2, 2012

The opposite of the midnight sun happens during the winter solstice. In Fairbanks, during the darkest day of the year, the sun rises for about three hours just as in the summer it only sets for three hours.

The midnight sun is only found above the arctic circle, when the sun dips but never fully sets. The arctic circle is 66 degrees, 33 minutes and 44 seconds latitude.