Earliest sunset comes before winter solstice
Earliest sunset isn’t on the shortest day
For the southernmost U.S. and similar latitudes – around 30 degrees north latitude – the earliest sunsets of the year are happening around now, because they come in late November and early December. Then, for latitudes farther north – around 40 degrees north latitude – the year’s earliest sunsets will happen in the coming week, the week of December 5, 2022. For instance, that would be the latitude of New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kansas City, Missouri; Denver, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; Beijing, China; Madrid, Spain; and Naples, Italy.
Meanwhile, what about the Southern Hemisphere? At this same time, for 40 degrees south latitude, the year’s earliest sunrises happen this week, as you progress toward your longest day at the December solstice.
Then, closer to the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, the earliest sunset and earliest sunrise happen nearer the solstice.
Want to know the date of your earliest sunset (or sunrise)? Sunrise-sunset.org provides the sunrise/sunset times to the second, for locations around the globe.
In fact, the exact date of the Northern Hemisphere’s earliest sunset and the Southern Hemisphere’s earliest sunrise varies by latitude.
But, at temperate latitudes, both of these annual hallmarks in our sky come a few to several weeks before the December solstice, not on the solstice as you might expect.
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The next solstice in 2022 comes at 21:48 UTC on December 21 and marks an unofficial beginning for winter in the Northern Hemisphere. So for the Northern Hemisphere, this upcoming solstice brings the shortest day and longest night of the year. Then why isn’t the earliest sunset on the year’s shortest day?
Basically, it’s because of the discrepancy between the clock and the sun. The fact is, a clock ticks off exactly 24 hours from one noon to the next. But an actual day – as measured by the spin of the Earth, from what is called one “solar noon” to the next – rarely equals 24 hours exactly.
Also, solar noon is simply called midday, because it refers to that instant when the sun reaches its highest point for the day. Thus, in the month of December, the time period from one solar noon to the next is actually half a minute longer than 24 hours. For example, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 7, the sun reaches its noontime position at 11:52 a.m. local standard time. Then, two weeks later – on the winter solstice – the sun will reach its noontime position around 11:58 a.m. So that’s 6 minutes later than on December 7.
Visit Sunrise Sunset Calendars to know the clock time for sunrise, solar noon and sunset plus day length in your part of the world, remembering to check the solar noon and day length boxes.
Another key point, the later clock time for solar noon means a later clock time for sunrise and sunset. This can be seen in the table below.
For Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
|Date||Sunrise||Solar Noon (Midday)||Sunset||Daylight Hours|
|December 7||7:08 a.m.||11:52 a.m.||4:35 p.m.||9 hours 27 minutes|
|December 21||7:19 a.m.||11:58 a.m.||4:38 p.m.||9 hours 20 minutes|
Latest sunrise and earliest sunset aren’t on the solstice
As you might have guessed, the latest sunrises aren’t on the day of the solstice either. So for middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the latest sunrises come in early January.
However, there’s variation in the exact dates, but the sequence is always the same for both hemispheres. First, earliest sunset before the winter solstice, the winter solstice itself, latest sunrise after the winter solstice. Then, half a year later: earliest sunrise before the summer solstice, the summer solstice itself, latest sunset.
So by all means, check out the earliest and latest sunsets and sunrises in your area. Because they are always lovely and happen around every solstice.
Sunsets from the EarthSky Community
Bottom line: The solstice comes on December 21, 2022, at 21:48 UTC. But the earliest sunsets at mid-northern latitudes – say, 40 degrees north latitude – happen on and around December 6 or 7. By comparison, latitudes closer to the equator had their earliest sunsets in late November, or earlier in December. And then latitudes closer to the Arctic Circle will have their earliest sunsets closer to the December solstice.
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