Midnight sun: What it is and how to see it

image showing multiple exposures of the sun as it dips close to the horizon and then begins to rise again, it is reflected on the water below.
The midnight sun moving over Sigurdarstadavik Bay near Kopasker, Iceland. (Image credit: Paul A. Souders via Getty Images)

The midnight sun is a natural summertime phenomenon in which the sun never sets below the horizon, not even at midnight. While this may sound like an otherworldly scenario, for those living in the polar regions, it's just another summer's day, albeit one that never ends. 

Here, we explore the midnight sun — also known as the "polar day," "white night" and "nightless night" — in more detail. Learn what causes the strange phenomenon, as well as where and when you can see the midnight sun for yourself. 

Related: Goodbye sun: What it's like to experience the polar night along Norway's rugged coastline 

What causes the midnight sun?

Diagram depicting Earth's orbit of the sun and the axial rotation that causes the seasons. (Image credit: Created in Canva by Daisy Dobrijevic)

The midnight sun is caused by Earth's axial tilt as the planet orbits the sun. Earth spins once a day on its axis of rotation. This imaginary line that joins the North Pole and the South Pole is tilted by about 23.4 degrees and is known as Earth's axial tilt.

This tilt causes one hemisphere to be angled toward the sun and the other away from it, and it is why there are opposite seasons in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. 

During the June solstice (known as the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere), the North Pole is tilted toward the sun. From the northern polar region, the sun never appears to set below the horizon. This is when the northern polar region experiences the midnight sun and the southern polar region experiences 24 hours of darkness, known as the polar night. 

Six months later, during the December solstice, Earth is on the other side of the sun and so the reverse scenario occurs: The South Pole points toward the sun and experiences the midnight sun, while the North Pole is plunged into 24-hour darkness. 

Where can you see the midnight sun?

The midnight sun is visible from within the Arctic and Antarctic circles during their respective summer months. The closer you are to the North or South Pole during the summer, the longer you can expect to see the midnight sun. 

Although you can still experience the midnight sun in the Southern Hemisphere, the Antarctic region is far more remote, making travel to that part of the world tricky. Therefore, we'll focus our attention on some of the best places in the Northern Hemisphere to see the midnight sun.

Midnight sun in Norway

Midnight sun near Senja island, Norway.  (Image credit: Oleh_Slobodeniuk via Getty Images)
Midnight sun durations

— Svalbard: April 20 to Aug. 22 

— Hammerfest: May 16 to July 28

— Tromsø: May 20 to July 25

— Svolvær: May 28 to July 17

With its long, rugged coastline stretching high above the Arctic Circle, Norway is one of the best locations to experience the midnight sun. The endless days provide ample opportunities to explore the beautiful country in a whole new dimension — at night — during the summer. 

According to Visit Norway, many sights and activities — such as golf, river paddling and sea kayaking — are open at night, making the most of the eternal light. In the far North, on the Arctic islands of Svalbard, it's even possible to take a guided midnight hike tour on a glacier. And if you want to experience the midnight sun along the coast, check out Norwegian tour operator Hurtigruten, which offers many voyages throughout the summer. 

Midnight sun in Iceland

Mount Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, Iceland.  (Image credit: © Marco Bottigelli via Getty Images)

Iceland boasts no shortage of adventures for making the most of the midnight sun. 

Although only the northern tip of the island of Grimsey lies within the Arctic Circle and technically is the only place in the country to experience the midnight sun, the rest of Iceland is so far north that you can still experience the long 24 hours of daylight throughout the summer. In the capital, Reykjavik, the sun barely dips below the horizon from May to July. The few hours of "night" remain as light as the early hours of twilight, according to the travel site Reykjavik Excursions

With whale-watching tours, scenic kayaking excursions near Mount Kirkjufell, and ATV tours from Reykjavik, to name but a few, Iceland offers a wealth of summertime activities to keep you more than busy. But with so much to do during the endless days, there is just one problem: When will you find time to sleep?

Midnight sun in Sweden

'Kungsleden', also know as The King's Trail is an approximately 440km long hiking trail in Sweden's most northern landscape; Lapland. (Image credit: Morgan Soderstrom via Getty Images)
Midnight sun durations

— Abisko: May 27 to July 18

— Kiruna: May 27 to July 14

— Gällivare: June 6 to July 6 

Visitors can enjoy the beautiful, dramatic scenery of northern Sweden while it basks in the golden glow of the midnight sun throughout the summer. Swedish Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, experiences the midnight sun between the end of May and mid-July, according to the Swedish tourism site Visit Sweden.

Sweden hosts a variety of ways to enjoy the endless summer days, including scaling Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain; playing a round of golf at Tornio Haparanda Golf, where 11 holes are in Sweden and seven are in Finland; or heading to the Riksgränsen ski resort to enjoy a night on the slopes under the midnight sun. 

Visit Sweden provides sound travel advice for those who are unsure of how to deal with the eternal days: "The best advice is to simply succumb to the light and stay vertical for as long as you can to enjoy this unique part of the world. Slow down and enjoy the never-ending summer days in Sweden. You can sleep when you get home." 

Midnight sun in Alaska

Alaska is a great place to visit to make the most of the long summer days.  (Image credit: BriBar via Getty Images)

Parts of northern Alaska experience the midnight sun throughout the summer, and as in Iceland, there are lots of notable locations that experience eternal daylight even though the sun briefly dips below the horizon in the early morning hours. 

Multiple exposure of the midnight sun above Toolik Lake, Alaska, U.S. (Image credit: Paul Souders via Getty Images)

Northern Alaska is a hive of activity during the summer, with people using seemingly never-ending days to hike, run, golf and play baseball. 

The long days also provide plants with ample sunlight, sparking a rapid growth season where 100-pound (45 kilograms) cabbages aren't considered outlandish, with many flowers and vegetables often dwarfing varieties grown across the rest of the U.S., according to the tourism website Explore Fairbanks Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska, boasts many celebrations to commemorate the 24-hour summer days, including a midnight sun festival, baseball games, 10K midnight sun runs and summer arts festivals. Indeed, Fairbanks certainly knows how to make the most of the midnight sun. 

How long does the midnight sun last?

The duration of the midnight sun depends on your location above the Arctic Circle. The farther north you are, the longer the midnight sun lasts. If you want to experience the midnight sun to the absolute fullest, head to Svalbard, Norway, where the sun doesn't set between April 20 and Aug. 22.  

Additional resources

Read about the lives of people who live under the midnight sun in this interesting article from Science World. It isn't just humans who are impacted by the midnight sun. Check out this article from Reykjavik Grapevine about how the midnight sun affects Iceland's wildlife. Think the midnight sun is only found on Earth? Think again! This incredible image captured by NASA's Phoenix lander on Mars shows the midnight sun on Mars.  

Bibliography

The Complete Guide to the Midnight Sun in Iceland. Guide to Iceland. https://guidetoiceland.is/nature-info/midnight-sun-in-iceland

Midnight sun season: Explore Fairbanks, Alaska. Land of the Midnight Sun in Fairbanks, AK. https://www.explorefairbanks.com/explore-the-area/midnight-sun-season/

Northern Norway – where the sun never sets. The midnight sun | Where the sun never sets. https://www.visitnorway.com/things-to-do/nature-attractions/midnight-sun/

What and when is the midnight sun?. Midnight Sun - Polar Day. https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/midnight-sun.html

When and where to see the spectacular midnight sun in Sweden. Midnight Sun, Swedish Lapland and Arctic Circle | Visit Sweden. https://visitsweden.com/where-to-go/northern-sweden/swedish-lapland/midnight-sun/

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Editor

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K. Daisy is passionate about all things space, with a penchant for solar activity and space weather. She has a strong interest in astrotourism and loves nothing more than a good northern lights chase! 

  • billslugg
    I drove the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse in June 1977, went north on the Dempster highway to the Arctic Circle. I saw the Sun above the horizon at midnight on June 21.
    Reply
  • Unclear Engineer
    My father did that at the other pole, but I have not had the experience. I am told that it really messes with your metabolic clock if you stay outside, rather then go into rooms that can be darkened when your body is cycling towards normal sleep periods. Did you experience that, Bill?
    Reply