24 hours of light?

Midnight sun at Toolik
All of these pictures were taken after midnight at Toolik Field Station

So, you already know that it’s daylight the entire time I am here at Toolik Field Station (earning the Arctic the nickname “Land of the Midnight Sun”), but you might not fully understand WHY.

Check out this animation for a great visual of the science behind the light in the Arctic.

Here’s the science in a nutshell:

  • The earth is tilted at about 23.5 degrees and constantly rotates on its axis. It takes 24 hours for the earth to rotate one time, explaining the length of our days. As the earth rotates, half of it is facing the sun and half is not. For the half of the earth facing the sun, it is day. For the half facing away from the sun, it is night.

NOAA image
The half of the earth facing the sun experiences daylight and the half facing away from the sun experiences night. Image source: NASA/NOAA GOES Satellite

  • Simple enough, right? However, the earth does not just stay in one spot in space and rotate on its axis. It is also in constant motion around the sun. It orbits the sun completely once every year. The tilt of the earth means that during its journey around the sun, the North Pole faces the sun the entire summer. During this same time, the South Pole is facing away from the sun, making it a dark winter.

Earth rotate
The earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours and revolves around the sun once every year. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons: Wapcaplet)

This interactive website can help you understand more about the science behind sunrise, sunset, and the seasons.

This chart shows the number of hours of daylight in the Arctic on each day of the year.

Living in the light

I am surprised how easy it was for me to get used to constant daylight. Granted, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help me sleep here at Toolik.

Sunlight survival kit
My survival kit for sleeping at Toolik: earplugs, eye mask, and trashbag covered window.

Here are a few things I’ve observed about living in 24 hours of light:

  • Flashlights are not needed- ever!

  • Bonfires and fireworks aren’t quite the same when the sun is still up.

  • You can fit much more into a day when it never gets dark. On the flip side, it is easy to accidentally stay up way too late.

  • You never have to worry about not seeing well when driving at night.

  • It is hard to have a good concept of what time it is. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I always think it is dawn and the sun is just coming up.

It will be interesting to see darkness again when I am back in Oklahoma in a couple of weeks!

Toolik Field Station
Weather Summary