The sun never sets for months at a time during the long Scandinavian summer.
Visitors to northern Norway during the winter are obsessed with hunting for the northern lights, but in the summer the focus turns to the midnight sun. For residents of Arctic towns and villages, the midnight sun is no tourist attraction, it is a simple fact of life!
The midnight sun is simply the phenomenon whereby the sun doesn't set for a period of time. At the Arctic Circle it's just around the time of the Summer Solstice, but at the North Pole the sun doesn't set for a full six months.
Between these locations, there's a varying degree of time. People in Tromsø, the largest town in northern Norway, experience the phenomenon for approximately two months each year: 20 May to 22 July. At the North Cape (pictured above and below), the midnight sun is visible for a few weeks more, approximately 14 May to 29 July.
The light at midnight
The midnight sun is something of a misnomer. It would be far better termed the ‘midnight light', especially at or just below the Arctic Circle.
For example, Trondheim is a few hundred miles below the Arctic Circle but for a couple of weeks around the summer solstice, it's usually light enough at midnight to comfortably read outside. This photo gives you an idea:
What causes the midnight sun?
As I'm sure everyone knows, the Earth completes one full rotation every 24 hours, which causes what we perceive on the planet's surface as day and night. If Earth was perpendicular to its axis, we would all have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night every day throughout the year, no matter where on the planet we were.
But the Earth is actually tilted by about 23.5 degrees, so the sun does not set in the Arctic circle region during the summer solstice and at the North Pole, the Sun does not set for the entire six month period.
The reverse is true at the south of the planet. This tilting of the axis is also responsible for us having seasons.
Due to the curvature of the earth, the fact the sun is a sphere and not a fixed point, and the way light behaves, the midnight sun is actually visible up to 1-degree lower than it should be.
The human impact of the midnight sun
Nroway uses uses giant mirrors, light-therapy clinics, and even teaches positive thinking to overcome seasonal depression in the winter, when the sun doesn't rise in parts of the country for months at a time. But Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also strike people in the summer.
In contrast to people who suffer from SAD in the winter, those who experience it at the height of summer will be more likely to show symptoms such as insomnia, decreased appetite and weight loss, and agitation or anxiety. Researchers still debate the exact reasons for the condition, which is much rarer than its winter companion.
“It’s not known exactly which neurotransmitters are affected, but Rosenthal believes those with summer SAD likely struggle with either the light that comes with expanded days, or else the heat”, reported Quartz when speaking to psychiatrist and author of Super Mind, Norman Rosenthal.
While researching Moon Norway, I travelled extensively around the north of the country in the summer. The light wreaks havoc with your brain and your body clock, even though most hotels have blackout blinds and/or thick curtains to keep the light out. If you're staying in hostels or cabins, an eye mask is an absolutely essential item to pack.
Where to see the midnight sun
I get this question quite a lot and am always a bit perplexed by it, but I guess people compare the midnight sun to seeing the northern lights. Whereas catching a glimpse of the aurora can be improved by visiting certain places at certain times, the midnight sun is always there in the sky.
As I said above, it's more about the light than seeing the sun itself, especially as science tells us never to look directly at the sun! While thousands travel to the North Cape every year to watch the sunset, I don't think that's an essential experience at all, as I wrote about here.
Because the midnight sun is about experiencing light late into the evening, you're far better off finding a quiet mountain or hiking path (there's plenty of those in northern Norway), packing a picnic and a sketch book, and simply enjoying the experience wherever you are.
That's what I did when I took a late night walk in northern Norway to catch a glimpse of the sunset that never was – picture above. I was out for two hours, and only passed by one cuddling couple and a man and his dog.
The midnight sun around the world
Of course, it's not just Norway from where you can experience the never-ending days of summer. Any country with land north of the Arctic Circle is an alternative – and most likely cheaper – choice.
The northern parts of our neighbours Sweden and Finland are good places to start. Further around the globe, the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada also enjoy the phenomenon, as do parts of Iceland, Greenland and Russia.
Have you been inspired by the midnight sun? If you're planning a trip, why not share your plans on Pinterest? We've got just the pin for that: