The Longest Night

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Today is called the hibernal solstice the day when Anchoragites see the least amount of sunshine and experience the longest night of the year. Thanks to the 23º tilt of the Earth’s axis, areas north of the Arctic Circle go without sunshine through the depth of winter. We’re fortunate here in Anchorage we still get just over 5 hours a day of sunlight during mid-winter.  5 hours, 27 minutes to be exact.  Here’s some things to put our day into perspective for those of you in sunnier climates.  Sunrise officially took place at 10:14AM, and Sunset at 3:42PM.  So, take a look outside tomorrow at about those times, and knows that here the sun isn’t even above the horizon.  Especially you folks down in Kansas & Texas & Alabama, where you still get not much less sunlight than you do during the summer — this could jump out at you. 

Because the days were shorter due to the tilt of the earth, even the sunrise doesn’t really mean the sun is “high”.  At 1PM (the ‘Solar Noon’) the sun will be 5.5° above the horizon.  For that, stick your hand straight out in front of you then turn it so your thumb is sticking up … your fingers are at the horizon, and your thumb is higher than “high noon” sun.

Since the day I moved to Anchorage, what was a constant reminder of how far north I was became evident each night when it seemed to get darker sooner and sooner.  When I arrived in Anchorage, the day lasted nearly 17 hours.  As big of a number that is, just think of the transition – for August, September, October, and most of November we lost between 5 & 6 minutes of daylight a day; that’s 40 minutes of daylight per week.  I still remember one of the early weekends in August, when I was stumbling home from the bar at Midnight and there was still some daylight in the sky.  You could easily lose track of time when I would go bounding out into the forest in September then when I felt hungry I looked down to find my watch was saying it was 9pm.  As the year went along, the changes were more dominant.  First seeming like it was just yesterday I was finishing dinner in sunlight, now its dark when I start it.  Or a 5am sunrise one day meant lights were on on the drive in the next.  For the most part, I am used to it being dark when I head to work, dark when I head home, and light only for a brief time when I take the pup out at lunch.

This darkness can be a grind, it can zap your energy, it can change your mood, but that all starts to adjust tomorrow.  There is officially 12 seconds more of daylight on December 22nd then today.  But remember, its going to accelerate — by Christmas we will have gained 2 minutes, by 2013 we gained 11 minutes, and in a month we will be seeing over 35 minutes of extra daylight gained per week.  They say come February it becomes very noticeable, and you get the urge to spend your time outside even in the snow.  It becomes this acceleration to the summer and the warmth & beauty that comes with it.

But for today, we revel in the longest night of the year, and celebrate the true start of winter.  I am celebrating the new & old ways:
1) Geocaching event at near to solar noon (it is a part solstice event, and part ‘survival of the apocolypse’ event)
2) Auggie graduates from his first Puppy class (and I do mean ‘first’, just because he graduates does it mean he knows enough to be a puppy)
3) Going to raise a glass to the end of the world with folks down at the irish pub … cause with a night this long, I’m going to need a drink.

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