North Norway’s polar night is about to begin! ALL THE FACTS you need to know about the ‘dark time’ above the Arctic Circle in Norway

North Norway’s polar night is about to begin! ALL THE FACTS you need to know about the ‘dark time’ above the Arctic Circle in Norway

NordenBladet – North Norway’s polar night* is about to begin. In late November, the sun will set in Tromsø and won’t be seen again until January. Other parts of North Norway above the Arctic Circle will see similar months of the annual polar night. In Longyearbyen on Svalbard, the polar night lasts from the last week of October until mid-February.

The people of Northern Norway have lived with the dark months for the past 10,000 years or so. They go to work and to school as usual, and the range of leisure activities available in the evenings is broad and varied. Cafés, restaurants and nightspots fill up night after night with talkative, good-humoured people, and many entertaining festivals are held during this period. Outdoor activities are far from impossible. There are illuminated ski runs in even small resorts in Northern Norway, and some operators organise dog-sledding and scooter trips where participants wear head-lights.

Here are all the facts you need to know about the ‘dark time’ above the Arctic Circle in Norway:

The polar night — defined as the period in which the sun is below the horizon 24 hours a day — occurs both north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle (at opposite times of the year).

In the northern hemisphere, the polar night occurs due to the northern part of the earth tilts away from the sun during this time.

The Latin name for the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, means ‘red sky at morning in the north’.

The Northern Lights occur as a result of particles from the sun hitting the earth’s atmosphere, or changes in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind.

Norwegian folklore says you shouldn’t wave at the Northern Lights. Doing so will cause the lights to come and take you away, so the myth goes.

People who live north of the Arctic Circle often find it harder to sleep during the polar night. This is because melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate circadian rhythms, is stimulated by light.

Darker days mean the body finds it harder to regulate its melatonin levels, which can wreak havoc on sleeping patterns.

Although the olar night is associated with pitch black, it’s not completely dark by definition. In fact, only small areas close to the poles experience complete darkness.

Since ‘night’ is considered to be when the centre of the Sun is below a free horizon, some level of light is often present, particularly when skies are cloudless.

Although many find the long absence of the sun a daunting prospect, others embrace it and even prefer it to its summer opposite, the polar day. Incidentally, the Norwegian term for polar day is fargetid (colour time).

Common questions with answers:

What is the polar night?
The polar night is the term for when night lasts for more than 24 hours inside the polar circles. In this case, ‘night’ is defined as when the centre of the Sun is below the horizon. Not all latitudes are situated north enough to experience sustained total darkness; instead their brightest moments are levels of polar twilight that occur in the early afternoon before evening approaches and the darkness intensifies.

What causes the polar night?
The polar night is caused by the rotation of the earth in relation to the position of the sun. The earth rotates on a titled axis of around 23.5 degrees. As a result of this axial tilt, there are periods of the year where the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle are either completely exposed or obscured from the sun. When they are obscured it causes the prolonged darkness known as the polar night, while when they are exposed it creates a prolonged period of daylight known as the midnight sun.

How long does the polar night last?
The full length of the polar night depends on your latitude. The average duration for most destinations is around 30 days, but more northerly locations can enjoy as almost two months of darkness. If you were situated at one of the poles this would last for around 11 weeks.

Where can I experience the polar night?
In Sweden’s most northern city of Kiruna, the polar night lasts for approximately 28 twenty-four-hour periods. In the Norwegian city of Tromsø, the dark hours can last for up to a month a half. If you visit Hammerfest, both the northernmost city in the world and one of the two oldest towns in Norway, the polar night lasts for almost two months.

Can you visit Northern Norway in the dark months?
Absolutely! To visit Northern Norway during the dark months is to meet us Northerners at home. It is a great time for cultural events, festivals, good food, shopping and outdoor activities. Bring your friend or family for a nice long weekend in the far north – it is the perfect setting for spending quality time together by the light of flickering candles. The spawning cod swim in close to the shore, and your taste buds rejoice. Snow scooter trips, dog-sledding and sleigh rides are organised in many places in Northern Norway and on Svalbard, and this is a great time of year to see the Northern Lights.

Here is a list of places that experience dark months. The dates indicate when the sun is below the horizon. In practice, however, the periods are often longer because mountains block the view to the south.

Svolvær: 7 December–5 January
Harstad: 2 December–10 January
Bardufoss: 30 November–12 January
Andenes: 29 November–13 January
Tromsø: 27 November–15 January
Alta: 25 November–17 January
Vardø: 23 November–19 January
Hammerfest: 22 November–20 January
Berlevåg: 21 November–21 January
North Cape: 20 November–22 January
Longyearbyen: 26 October–16 February
The North Pole: 25 September–18 March

* The polar night occurs in the northernmost and southernmost regions of the Earth when the night lasts for more than 24 hours. This occurs only inside the polar circles. The opposite phenomenon, the polar day, or midnight sun, occurs when the Sun stays above the horizon for more than 24 hours.

The polar shortest day is not totally dark everywhere inside the polar circle, but only in places within about 5.5° of the poles, and only when the moon is well below the horizon. Regions located at the inner border of the polar circles experience polar twilight instead of polar night. In fact, polar regions typically get more twilight throughout the year than equatorial regions.

For regions inside the polar circles, the maximum lengths of the time that the Sun is completely below the horizon varies from zero a few degrees beyond the Arctic Circle and Antarctic Circle to 179 days at the Poles. However, not all this time is classified as polar night since sunlight may be visible because of refraction. The time when any part of the Sun is above the horizon at the poles is 186 days. The preceding numbers are average numbers: the ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit makes the South Pole receive a week more of Sun-below-horizon than the North Pole.

Featured image: Norway (Pexels)

Read also:
18 common questions with answers: WHAT is Aurora Borealis? What causes the Northern Lights? Where is the best place to go and see the northern lights? Do the Northern Lights give off radiation? etc.


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