Earliest sunset comes before winter solstice

Map of U.S. with 10 parallel curved lines of latitude across it.
View larger. | The shortest day is at the solstice. And many are surprised to learn that the earliest sunsets come days or weeks before the solstice. This map shows the number of days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise, for various latitudes. And it shows the dates of these events. When is your earliest sunset? The dates hold true for these latitudes around the globe. Map via Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49 on Twitter, or via Brian B.’s Climate Blog). Used with permission.

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)? 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.

Available now! 2023 EarthSky lunar calendar. A unique and beautiful poster-sized calendar showing phases of the moon every night of the year! And it makes a great gift.

Graph showing earliest sunset, latest sunrise by latitude, across the globe.
View larger. | Dates of latest sunrise and earliest sunset by latitude. Chart via Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49 on Twitter, or via Brian B.’s Climate Blog). Used with permission.


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

Six-panel montage of rainbow and pink sunset clouds.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mohamed Mohamed caught this sunset and rainbow from Libya, Tripoli on December 3, 2021. Thank you, Mohamed!
Earliest sunset: Yellow sun sinking in very orange sunset clouds.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Luka Milevoj caught this early sunset on November 23, 2021, above Pula, a seafront city in Croatia. Thank you, Luka!
A beach at sunset, a stone arch on one side and colorful pink streaky clouds in a soft blue sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Keyur Dani caught this glorious sunset on December 5, 2020, at Natural Bridge Beach, Santa Cruz, California.
Rural scene with sunset directly behind a silhouetted horse in the distance.
EarthSky Facebook friend Dutch McClintock in Livingston, Montana, took this photo. And Livingston’s latitude is about 45 degrees north, so – for Dutch and all those living at that latitude – the earliest sunset will happen closer to the December solstice.
Circular panorama of sky filled with streaky red sunset clouds.
Sunset in Manila by EarthSky Facebook friend Jv Noriega. And Manila is at 14 degrees north latitude, so the earliest sunset there has already happened.

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.

Solstice tale of two cities: New York, New York, and St. Augustine, Florida

Planet-observing is easy: Top tips here

EarthSky’s monthly night sky guide: Visible planets and more

December 3, 2022

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Bruce McClure

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