Is it always daytime in Alaska?
This post is edited from an episode of the Is That True? Podcast, where host Arionne fact-checks different kid facts and questions. Today’s episode talks about 24 hour light and dark days in Alaska, a topic submitted by Kaia.
Arionne: Speaking of travel, this week, our fact takes us somewhere very far North, to Alaska!
Kaia: Hi, my name is Kaia. I’m 5 years old and I live in California.
There are days in Alaska where the sun never comes up and it’s dark the whole day.
Arionne: You know what, Kaia? I don’t really know! But we can have a lot of fun finding out.
But first, let’s talk a little bit about Alaska. Alaska is part of the United States. And when we’re looking at its size, it’s the largest of all the 50 states. That’s important to note because something happening in one part of Alaska could be totally different in another part. Compared to the other states, Alaska is really far north and is the northernmost state in the U.S. But funny enough, it’s also the most western state AND the most eastern. It’s really that big!
My second favorite thing about Alaska is the flag. It has a pattern of stars called the Big Dipper on it plus the North Star, which is very cool because it stays put while other stars move around it so it can help us tell direction. That flag was designed by a 13-year-old, so a kid just like you!
And my MOST favorite thing about Alaska is my friend Greta Johnsen. She is from Alaska and is the host of a great podcast called Nerdette that talks about all the things we can nerd out about like science and books. It’s so fun!
Greta: My name is Greta Johnsen and I host WEBEZ's Nerdette podcast.
Arionne: Yes. Yes. And we're friends.
Greta: And we're friends. Yes. I like you a lot.
Arionne: And because we're friends, I know that you are from Alaska and that's the place I've never been before.
Greta: Yeah. I feel like that's one of those facts that I don't let people forget. Like it comes up a lot.
Arionne: Yeah. I would too. Everybody knows I'm from Chicago. Yeah, exactly.
I always worked that into conversation. So there is this really cool fact about Alaska and I figured you would be the perfect person to talk to about it. So, is iit true that there are days in Alaska when the sun never comes up and it's dark the entire day?
Greta: It's a great question. And the answer is yes, it's true, but you have to go super far north in Alaska for it to happen.
Actually [it will] be like nighttime the whole time. So where I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, it's kind of in the middle of the state. It's like a couple hundred miles south of the Arctic circle. It gets really dramatic. It's like super light all summer and super dark all winter, but you do still have some daylight during the winter. It doesn't really get dark enough to be nighttime in the summer though.
Arionne: Wow! So, YES! It IS true. There are parts of Alaska where some days, it’s dark the whole day. But also, some days, it’s light the whole day! But understanding when the days are all dark or all light is sort of complicated. That means it’s not that easy to understand.
Greta: So the way it works, it's kind of complicated actually. So, uh, in June, June 21st is the summer solstice and that's the brightest day of the year. So at least in my hometown on [the] solstice, there's usually about two and a half hours where the sun isn't in the sky.
And so then 21 and a half hours of daylight, and then after the solstice, the amount of sunlight decreases every day. So the sun starts rising later and later in the morning and setting earlier and earlier until winter solstice. Well until Equinox, which is September 21st. And then it's 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.
And then it keeps going until [the winter] solstice, which is December 21st. And that's the darkest day [of the year]. And then that's about two and a half hours of sun and then 21 and a half hours of darkness.
Arionne: Wow. Well, so what does that feel like when it's nighttime, but it's not dark?
Greta: It's so active and everybody is like out—people will mow their lawns at 11:00 PM.
And like, sometimes they'll forget to cook dinner because like the normal signs you're used to aren't there. Or like, I was just there a couple of weeks ago. And like, sometimes you kind of forget to go to sleep cause it doesn't get dark, which is normally when, you know, when to go to sleep.
Arionne: But what are some of your favorite things to do during that time of year?
Greta: Well, I don't like mowing lawns. It's true. Um, my favorite things to do that time of year. So when I was just up there, it was really fun because a bunch of my friends who also grew up there were there, but a lot of us moved away and they live in places like Portland or Chicago or Cleveland.
So it was really cool that everyone all came together. And one of my favorite things that we did is actually like a tourist thing. A thing that people who travel up there to visit do, but it was so much fun. We rented canoes and we floated down the main river that goes through town. And it was such a fun way to see town.
It was kind of like a lazy river at the water park. You know what I mean? When you're on those air tubes and you're just looking around floating, it was like that except on a river in Alaska, which like, how cool is it?
Arionne: Yeah, that's my kind of canoeing where you don't really get to do that. You can kind of relax. Do you have any other amazing facts about home since we're talking about Alaska? Because that's a place that a lot of us have just never been.
Greta: Yeah. I think what's really interesting about Alaska, and it kind of is similar to the theme of pretty much only dark in the winter and pretty much only light in the summer, is that my hometown of Fairbank's has one of the most drastic temperature differences where humans live like anywhere on earth. In Fairbanks it can get 47 degrees below zero in the winter. Like it gets cold and there's no wind chill.
It's just like, that's the air temperatures are that cold. But then in the summer, like it was 86 the day before I got there, 86 above. So that's like, I mean, that's like 130 degrees of difference between those two temperatures.
Arionne: So if we come to visit, what should we absolutely do? You know, what do you recommend?
Greta: I would say, I mean, aside from the canoe trip, you should spend as much time outside as possible, at least if you're there in the summer. Um, and I think you should eat as much salmon and blueberries as possible, and you should stay away from bears.
Arionne: 'Cause bears are scary and dangerous.
Greta: I mean, yeah. I mean, some bears are probably nice, but it's better to give them their space, right?
Arionne: Yeah. Yeah. That's probably smart.
Arionne: Well, thank you so much. Greta I really can't wait to hopefully visit Alaska with you one day.
Greta: Yeah, we got to bring you up. It would be super fun.
Arionne: And we got to go when it's not quite negative 47, we can work with that. And then we'll also make sure we stay away from bears.