128 DAYS WITHOUT A SUNSET, THEN TWO IN ONE DAY: Nearly four-month-long polar summer ends with double disappearance in Longyearbyen; in two months the long polar night begins

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Photo by Elizabeth Bourne

After nearly four months without a sunset, the sun is sinking twice in Longyearbyen on Tuesday.

The ever-present solar sphere these past few months vanished beneath the western skyline at 12:10 a.m., rising a short while and distance away at 1:50 a.m. It will vanish a second time at 11:45 p.m. before settling into a more “normal” day/night cycle that will see Longyearbyen officially go from 24-hour daylight to 24-hour darkness in exactly two months.

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The sun vanishes behind the mountains in the western skyline just after midnight Tuesday in Longyearbyen, the first sunset in nearly four months. The end of 24-hour days of sunlight means the days will now rapidly grow shorter until the polar night officially begins Oct. 26. Photo by Elizabeth Bourne.

“I have seen more spectacular sunsets, but not more important sunsets,” wrote Elizabeth Bourne, a photographer who moved here in April of 2019 and was among those who gathered at the shoreline to watch the “first sunset,” in a post on her Facebook page featuring photos of the “dark” moment. “The last sunrise was April 18. This is the first sunset August 25. My ‘day’ lasts 128 days.”

Multiple and oddly timed sunsets/sunrises are the norm during the onset and end of the polar summer. The beginning of the polar night is less complicated, although just as dramatic as the city will drop from more than four hours of sunlight on Oct. 21 to none on Oct. 26, following the last “day” on Oct. 25 when the sun rises at 10:49 a.m. and sets at 12:31 p.m.

Still, the periods immediately after the “transition” dates differ little to people here in practical terms. There will be 24-hour effective daylight (officially “civil twilight”) until Sept. 7, and visible 24-hour light in the sky until Sept. 19. One the sun vanishes for the last time this year in late October there will be civil twilight through Nov. 7 and the town won’t truly be in perceivable 24-hour full darkness until a couple of weeks later.

  • Mad Musicologist

    The sunset oddity is caused by “daylight saving time” regulations which, for a country in the north, seem quite odd to me: I wonder what is the general feeling about d.s.t. in Scandinavia, especially for the folks living north of the polar circle.
    A specialty for Longyearbyen is the welcoming celebration when the sun returns there for the first time in the year, “solfestuke”, on March 8th. Is there an equivalent at the farewell which I suppose takes place early October?