A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 22: “What’s it called in English when the sun doesn’t set?”

Image courtesy of josef.stuefer on Flickr

Image courtesy of josef.stuefer on Flickr

During one of my classes today, we got on to the topic of daylight saving time and the like. One of my students wanted to know what time the sun set in the UK, and was surprised to hear that during the summer months, the sun might not set until around 9.30 in the evening.

This then lead on to a discussion of those areas in the Arctic Circle where the sun does not set for certain periods of the year. The student in question wanted to know what we call this phenomenon, and said that in Korean there was a word for it, but as far as he knew, from asking other teachers and searching his dictionary, there was no English term for it. I thought about it for a while, trying to think about whether I’d ever heard the word or not, and nothing was coming to mind. But like a good little teacher, I told the student I’d go away and find out if we did have a word for it and get back to him.

I searched Google for “what is it called when the sun never goes down”. Luckily enough, Wikipedia had the answer:

The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the summer months in places north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle, when the sun remains visible at the local midnight.

The midnight sun is only observable from countries located within the Arctic Circle, which include: Parts of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Alaska.

Some areas in Norway, such as Svalbard—a group of islands—experience the continuous sunlight for months at a time. This page on the Visit Norway site explains more about it. When the sun does not set for a period of 24 hours or more, it is known as a polar day, as this page on timeanddate.com explains.

The Wikipedia page also describes white nights which occur in areas just south of the Article Circle. Here, although the sun does set below the horizon, it is only 6 degrees or less below, which means the regions experience twilight where there is still enough light that artificial light is not needed.

The opposite of a polar day is a polar night. This is when the sun does not rise for 24 hours or more. At the two poles, the sun only rises and sets once during a year. Once the sun sets at the poles, it does not rise again for several months.

So it turns out that we do have a term in English for this phenomenon. Where would we be without Google?!

2 comments on “Day 22: “What’s it called in English when the sun doesn’t set?”

  1. annloseva
    January 24, 2015

    Enjoyable learning! During summer months in Moscow (more precisely, from end of May to mid-July) the sun sets at about 11 pm. At least it is still quite comfortbaly light at 11-11.30.
    And in Saint-Petersburg, which is surely south of polar circle, June is famous with tourists for its white nights!


    • David Harbinson
      January 24, 2015

      Hi Anna, thanks for your comment and letting me know about Russia. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere to be able to see the white nights before. I do remember the summers in the UK though, sitting out in the garden at around 9pm and it still being like the middle of the afternoon. It’s not like that here in Korea unfortunately, and it gets dark quite quickly. Not that the dark stops people being out though in the city where it’s constantly lit up artificially.


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This entry was posted on January 22, 2015 by in Language and tagged , , , .


January 2015

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