Sun returns to Arctic Alaska

After a nearly two-month absence, the sun rose in Barrow -- northernmost town in the U.S. -- on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. Gina Sturm photo. Alaska Dispatch. Barrow, a community in Alaska’s Far North, had its first sunrise of the new year on Monday afternoon at 1:11, according to calculations by the U.S. Naval Observatory.

The first gleaming of direct solar energy since mid-November lasted about 57 minutes by Naval estimates, with the sun finally slipping back beneath the horizon at 2:08 p.m. AST.

Never fear, for this temporary retreat to feeble indirect daylight of hard winter doesn’t last.

The sun returns with a vengeance the following day, and never stops adding extra rays for months.

On Jan. 24, it will rise at 12:52 p.m. and set 95 minutes later at 2:27 p.m., an increase (by Naval arithmetic) of 38 minutes of total possible sunshine in just one day.

From then on, the rate of daily increase gradually slows to about nine additional minutes each day by early April, then accelerates with the approach of the summer climax of perpetual light. On May 10, the sun stays up 23 hours and 11 minutes. On May 11, the myth becomes reality — 24 hours of possible sunlight envelopes the northernmost city in the United States. First sunset won’t arrive until Aug. 1, when the sun is scheduled to dip from sight at 1:20 a.m. AST. It stays down for 28 minutes. The retreat speeds up from there.

For those who like to parse details, note that considerable light leaks over the horizon at midday along Alaska’s Arctic coast, giving Barrow a sense of solar presence even during the darkest days near winter solstice. Civil twilight — basically the span of time with daylight but not direct sunlight — lasts almost six hours on Jan. 23.

In Alaska, you see, it’s never as dark as it seems.

To calculate charts of sunrise, sunset, length of light and dark, go to the U.S. Naval Observatory. For duration of daylight at a single location. For times of sunrise/sunset — or civil twilight — at a single location.

Contact Doug O’Harra at doug(at)

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