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Midnight sun, paddling on Torne RiverPhoto Markus Alatalo

Midnight Sun

“The midnight sun – well, what’s it like?” This is a question we Scandinavians struggle to answer. Because how can the midnight sun be explained in words?

We would rather take you up past the Arctic Circle and show you. Walk with you out onto a vast, open expanse of lichen-speckled rock, fold out a deck chair and sit down with a book. At 9 or 10 p.m. we’d point out the sun’s low position above the distant hills. How it moves across the sky, hardly dropping. How the light grows increasingly soft, warm and golden – but is still enough to read by. At midnight we’d show you that the sun is now carving the bottom of an arc just above the horizon. You’d return to your book, still not convinced.

An hour later we would stop reading, look up and see that the sun is actually slightly higher again. Now we could go home. But if we stayed out, we’d  see how the sun slowly rose, levelled off around noon, and in the afternoon slowly fell again. That evening we’d realise that to keep facing the sun over the past 24 hours, we had spun around in a full circle.

It’s all because of the axial tilt – how the earth’s axis leans 23.5 degrees relative to its orbit around the sun. The axial tilt means that at the summer solstice – 21 June – the entire area above the Arctic Circle is exposed to the sun for at least 24 hours. Right through the night. Which is why we call it the midnight sun. The further north you are, the more days the sun will remain above the horizon. And at the north pole, the sun won’t set between late March and late September. Rather it spirals around the observer, higher and higher until the summer solstice, before spiralling down again, finally crossing the horizon in late September.

In Jukkasjärvi we have midnight sun from the 30th of May till the 14th of July

Polar night – daytime darkness

The lesser-known counterpart to the midnight sun is the polar night, or Kaamos as it’s called in Finnish. The polar night occurs in winter when the sun doesn’t climb above the horizon during daytime. Just like the midnight sun, the polar night is a result of the earth’s axial tilt – that the earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees relative to its orbit.

What’s so special about the polar night is the beautiful light conditions – a soft, deep-blue glow , sometimes called the polar twilight. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the brighter and bluer the light.