Written by Bethan Hall-Jones

 

Today marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, but here in Iceland everyday feels just as long as the nights do not get dark during the summer months. For 17 days around the solstice the sun actually sets after midnight, giving rise to the name the Midnight Sun. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs due to the tilt of the Earth, which for us in the northern hemisphere causes us to face the sun more directly during the summer months, and then away from it during the winter months, leading to the different seasons. This is the opposite for people in the southern hemisphere.

While we are not far enough north for the sun to never set, when it does set, it only dips a few degrees below the horizon, resulting in a level of brightness called civil twilight. On a cloudy day where the sun is not visible it is almost impossible to tell if the sun has even set or what time it is as the level of brightness is the same for 24 hours. On a clear night however, the sky is often beautiful with pink and purple streaks as the sun sets and rises again within a few hours.

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If you were to move further north into the Arctic circle, then the sun would truly not set and its path dipping towards the horizon could be seen but it would never disappear. At the most extreme, the north and south poles, the year will be split in half where for 6 months the sun will not set and then for the other 6 months it will not rise!

During the summer months here this level of brightness can mess up your sleeping patterns, as we have experienced, and a good eye mask is needed if you want to sleep well through the night. This brightness is great for working on the projects though, and it means that at any point in the day when work is scheduled, we don’t have to factor in the level of brightness or get worried about getting lost in the dark. We can only imagine the reverse of this in winter when the sun only rises for a couple of hours a day!

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