polar day and polar night
Last Updated: August 13, 2021

Polar Day & Polar Night: All The Facts

What’s Polar Day, what’s Polar Night, and do they have anything to do with Polar Bears? No, they don’t but you’ll need to keep reading to get the answers to all the other questions you might have about Polar Night and the Midnight Sun.

What causes these phenomena, how long do they last, and where do they occur are some of the questions I’ll answer below. Read on to learn all the important facts about Polar Day and Polar Night!

What Is Polar Day And Why Does It Happen?

Polar Day is a natural phenomenon in which the sun doesn’t set at all. It only occurs in places that are north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. In places north of the Arctic Circle, this phenomenon occurs in the summer, usually right after the summer solstice. In places south of the Antarctic Circle the Polar Day occurs during the winter months.

Polar Day is also known as the Midnight Sun, an idiom that describes the phenomenon beautifully and precisely. Because the sun never sets during Polar Day, it is possible to stand outside at midnight and see it shining as bright as ever.

Polar Day

So, why does it happen? Well, it has to do with the position of Earth and its orbit around the sun.  The Earth is tilted on its axis, which is the reason why we have long and short days. If the Earth were perfectly perpendicular, we’d have 12-hours days and 12-hours nights all the time. While the Earth is rotating on its axis, it is also circling the sun.

It takes approximately a year for the Earth to orbit around the sun, but once it gets close enough to the sun, some places are constantly exposed to the sunshine because the planet is tilted on its axis. That’s the reason why the sun doesn’t set in some places for months at a time – because of the position of the planet, that particular place is constantly exposed to sun rays.

What Is Polar Night And Why Does It Happen?

Northern Lights Tromso

Polar Night is a phenomenon when the sun doesn’t rise at all. There are various types of Polar Night and they’re often categorized by how dark the sky is. The term “Polar Night” is rather ominous and it immediately makes you think of a pitch-black environment, but that’s not really the case in real life. Sure, Polar Night can mean a pitch-black sky, but it can also mean a light-gray or even purplish twilight.

The exact length of Polar Night depends on the latitude of a specific area. The average length of the Polar Night is 30 days, but in some places, it can last up to two months, and on the poles, it usually lasts for about 11 weeks.

Northern Lights

Polar Night is common in the northernmost parts of the planet, particularly in places above the Arctic Circle. The phenomenon also happens in the Antarctic Circle but during opposite times. In other words, if it’s Polar Night in the Arctic Circle then it’s Polar Day in the Antarctic Circle and vice versa.

Just like the Polar Day, Polar Night is caused by Earth’s rotation and position on its axis. During the period of the Polar Night, the Arctic (or Antarctic) Circle is positioned so that it is entirely obscured from the sun, which is the reason why the sun never rises during this period.  

Bodo Northern Lights

One of the best things about the Polar Night in the Arctic Circle is that it’s the absolute best period to see the Northern Lights, perhaps the most famous natural phenomenon in the world. The dancing lights in the night sky attract millions of tourists to countries in the Arctic Circle and for good reasons – for most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is absolutely mesmerizing to observe.

For those living in the Arctic Circle, it’s anything but. Polar Night is also a period that sees an increase in people seeking therapy because of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It should come as no surprise that people who don’t feel as great in the winter need some sort of professional help when the sun doesn’t rise for three months straight. The help often comes in form of LED light therapy, which is becoming increasingly popular in countries in the Arctic Circle.

Where Do Polar Day And Polar Night Happen?

Polar day and night only happen inside the polar circles. In the northern hemisphere, the phenomena occur in the Arctic Circle, and in the southern hemisphere, they happen in the Antarctic Circle. It’s worth noting that several countries (and continents) are inside the Arctic Circle, but only Antarctica is inside the Antarctic Circle.

That’s why most people who want to see either the polar day or the polar night will stay in the northern hemisphere – Antarctica is not easily accessible, so not a convenient place to visit just to chase the Northern Lights.

Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Russia, Canada, and the United States (Alaska) are the only countries inside the Arctic Circle. If you want to see these phenomena in action, you’ll need to visit one of the countries above. It’s worth noting that the latitude of the Arctic Circle is 66°30′ N and that the phenomena occur only north of that latitude. Sometimes their effects will extend even south of the polar circle, but it won’t be anywhere near as impactful.

When Do Polar Day And Polar Night Happen?

In the Arctic Circle, Polar Day happens around the summer solstice. It usually starts June 21st, but the length of the phenomenon depends on the latitude. The closer you are to the poles the longer the polar day will last. In places that are right at the edge of the Arctic Circle, the sun won’t set for a few days.  

While Polar Day happens in the Arctic Circle, Polar Night happens in the Antarctic Circle. And when Polar Night starts to happen in the Arctic Circle in late November, it’s time for Polar Day in the Antarctic Circle. 

Polar Night can last for up to six months, but only on the poles. It usually lasts for 2-3 months in the countries inside the Arctic Circle, but it really depends on where exactly you are in the country. In Norway, for example, the Polar Night lasts for just some 4 weeks in the Lofoten Islands and for about 2-3 months in Tromso.   

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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