Solstice Safari

IMG_0456S: On June 21, 2015, I experienced summer’s Northern Solstice near the Arctic Circle. In Reykjavik, Iceland, at 12:03 am, the Sun finally set and rose again, in almost the exact same spot, at 2:55 am (pictured). It didn’t quite set in the west or rise in the east, but rather north of both. I realized the solstice itself was that afternoon at 14:39 GMT, but magic and science was the same thing during this midnight sunset in the northern hemisphere. Really, what was the difference?

A: At latitude 66 degrees north, the effects of solstices are remarkable compared to the more moderate 47 degrees. During this solstice, my location was closest to the Sun, and our zeniths furthest away from the equator, as they’d be all year. Because the sun-stopping nature the Latin name “solstitum” implies, the Sun appears to reverse direction on this day. Icelanders experience a day over a year. Three months of light, three of dark, the rest in between.

F: Ironically, if I had visited Iceland for the winter solstice’s darkness, then I would’ve experienced Aurora borealis, or northern lights. More light.

A: The constant daylight of night was astonishing. I called it “day-night.” Visiting this magical land during the time of light drugged me, and the absence of night confused my body so. For eight days (or perhaps one really long day), I got lost in this light elixir, despite sleep aids and dark curtains. Maybe I understood what International Space Station astronauts experience as repeated, daily sunrises and sunsets confuse their circadian rhythms…

R: Starved for stars, I remembered that I myself would soon be hiking under the Big Sky for summer school in Montana. Iceland and Montana share many geologic and scientific phenomena, and perhaps some celestial magic as well. Hence, the seasonal circular path of the Sun in the sky at 66 degrees north reminded me of how my magical journey continues full circle in the lower 48.

I: The difference was that so much of my journey began in Montana so long ago, and I was only a visitor on this foreign Icelandic island. Really, the difference was day and night.


© 2015 Jess Rowell

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