BRIGHT OUTLOOK: Sun makes brilliant return to Longyearbyen after town endures months of darkness and shadow

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On this day at least, there was no doubt the world’s northernmost town had one of the world’s sunniest dispositions.

After an absence of nearly four months, the sun peeked over the horizon and shone on the historic wooden steps of a hospital destroyed in World War II, the traditional gathering point for hundreds of Longyearbyen residents and others participating in the biggest local celebration of the year.

The sun’s appearance on the southern horizon at about 12:50 p.m. occurred on a cloudless and windless day – one of maybe four or five such days longtime residents can recall in nearly 50 years of celebrations – allowing one of the two student emcees to make an exceeding rare declaration.

“The sun is clearly back,” she said over the loud cheers of the crowd.

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Kids and adults alike both got into the bright spirit of the season during the annual return-of-the-sun ceremony Thursday on the old hospital steps near Svalbard Church. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Well, “clearly” might be a bit misleading. The sun was actually back – in the sense of Longyearbyen’s first official sunrise – on Feb. 16, but the surrounding mountains kept any rays from hitting most of the town for weeks. And while the ceremony is traditionally held on March 8, the Official Local Paper of Record reported radiant rays reached the hospital steps a day ahead of time without the massive fanfare.

Still, the ceremony means Longyearbyen will be basking in lengthy (indeed, mostly non-step) doses of sunlight for months and that’s surely a good thing, right? Well, kinda, at least according to the wisdom of 10-year-old Joanna Matea Rut Eriksson, who achieved a possible first in winning a student content to design the official Solfestuka logo for two years in a row. Somewhat shy when interviewed during last year’s ceremony under equally uncertain skies (which cleared just enough at the magic moment to allow the sun to be seen), this year she generated some laughs for pointing out that while her exposure to the sun via her art gives her a warm feeling, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.

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Joanna Matea Rut Eriksson, 10, accepts a framed picture of her winning drawing of this year’s official Solfestuka logo, the second year in a row she has won the award. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“The sun is hot and sometimes you get sunburned,” she said.

 

Staying out of the rays will become a much greater challenge on April 19, when the three-and-a-half-month polar summer with its 24 hours of daylight begins. But, in keeping with the confusion about what’s dark and light in Longyearbyen, it turns out the town is already in a form of continuous sunlight.

Sunrise on Thursday was at 7:27 a.m. and sunset at 4:52 p.m., for a total of 9:24:38 of daylight – and a gain of 16:02 compared to the day before. But it was also Longyearbyen’s fourth day of 24-hour “astronomical twilight” (“earliest stage of dawn (and the) last stage of dusk,” according to an official definition), with 17:07 of nautical twilight (“both the horizon and the brighter stars are usually visible”) and 12:50 of civil twilight (“enough natural light to carry out most outdoor activities”).

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TV and film crews from Norway and abroad film the return-of-the-sun ceremony Thursday. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The ceremony was part of a week-long series of events associated with the return of the sun, featuring everything from concerts to lectures to outdoor children’s activities. The festival has been chosen by residents in the past as their favorite annual event and, as usual, was captured on camera by a multitude of media crews from Norway and abroad (although, in a fitting irony, the largest-ever foreign film crew here missed it entirely as the efforts of the 130-member team filming the fictional TV drama “Fortitude” – which has botched pretty much every “really” about Svalbard – was a few kilometers away in a valley just outside the town limits. One of their bizarre police-cars-that-don’t-exist-here was at the ceremony, but only because a local resident assisting the crew borrowed it ti be at the ceremony).

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