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Slowest sunsets around solstices

Here’s a natural phenomenon you might never have imagined. That is, the sun actually sets more slowly around the time of a solstice. The slowest sunsets (and sunrises) occur at or near the solstices. The fastest sunsets (and sunrises) occur at or near the equinoxes. This is true whether you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

And, by the way, when we say sunset here, we’re talking about the actual number of minutes it takes for the body of the sun to sink below the western horizon. Follow the links below to learn more:

Why does the sun set so slowly around the solstices?

When was the solstice?

Image top of post: Adrian Strand in northwest England.

Equinoxes and solstices, via Geosync

Equinoxes and solstices, via Geosync

Why does the sun set so slowly around the solstice? At the June (or December) solstice, the sun rises and sets farthest north (or south) of due east and due west. The farther the sun sets from due west along the horizon, the shallower the angle of the setting sun. That means a longer duration for sunset at the solstices.

Meanwhile, at an equinox, the sun rises due east and sets due west. That means – on the day of an equinox – the setting sun hits the horizon at its steepest possible angle.

The sunset duration varies by latitude, but let’s just consider one latitude, 40o North, the latitude Denver or Philadelphia in the United States, or Beijing in China. At that latitude, on the day of equinox, the sun sets in about 2 and 3/4 minutes.

On the other hand, at 40o latitude, the solstice sun sets in roughly 3 and 1/4 minutes.

equinox_solstice_610

When was the solstice? In 2016, the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice (Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice) fell on June 20 at 22:34 Universal Time. In the United States, that translates to 6:34 p.m Eastern Time, 5:34 p.m. Central Time, 4:34 p.m. Mountain Time and 3:34 p.m. Pacific Time.

Bottom line: The slowest sunsets of the year are happening now, around the time of the June solstice.

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Bruce McClure

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