The day/night cycle is something that most of us take for granted. We know the sun will rise in the morning and we’ll be able to see even if it’s cloudy. Then the sun will go down and the world will turn dark. Sure, there are seasons where one is more dominant than the other, but most of us know we’re always going to have some of both.
Yet, for those who inhabit polar regions, this isn’t the case. These folks have times where they experience periods of 24 hours of “daytime” where the sun never sets. They also have times where they experience 24 hours of “nighttime.”
At Rainbow Symphony, we’re intrigued by all things related to the sun. Today, we wanted to tackle what it would be like to live in the polar regions during their annual period of perpetual darkness. What is a polar night? Let’s take a look!
The Science Behind It
The earth’s day/night cycle is based upon the fact that the earth takes 24 hours to make one complete rotation on its axis. As the world rotates, the sun dips below the horizon to the west and yields to darkness. Further rotation will have the sun rising in the east.
Because the earth is tilted on its axis, different regions of the earth get varying lengths of sunlight as the earth revolves around the sun. That’s why a town two hours north of where you live has different sunrise and sunset times. This plays out to its most extreme in the polar regions, where the tilt of the earth can cause the sun either to never set below the horizon or never rise above it for a certain period of time. The closer you get to the poles, this can mean that a person could experience periods of constant light or darkness for around 70 days at a time. Wow!
Dark AND Cold
While most (but not all) of the regions that experience the longest periods of darkness are uninhabited, there are many populated areas where residents live through several weeks of polar night. The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland, and Sweden, as well as regions of Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and Alaska all experience this unusual phenomenon.
Living in these permafrost areas means that polar night isn’t simply a lack of light, they experience a lack of heat, as well. Have you ever noticed a drop in temperatures if you go from bright and sunny days to an overcast day? Less direct sunlight means less heat. Many of these areas experience sub 0° Celcius temperatures for weeks at a time during the polar night.
Guarding Against Depression
Our bodies have a natural rhythm that’s timed to the natural day/night cycle. This is part of the reason that jet lag can be hard to deal with because your body wants to be awake when it’s dark outside (or vice versa). Some folks who live through polar night have to make special provisions to help fight off both the physical and mental effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression brought on by lack of light.
Those who live in arctic regions often swear by natural light lamps which have timers that help simulate the typical cycles of the sun. These lamps help trick their body into snapping back into their natural rhythms. Saunas are also extremely popular in Scandinavia. It’s not unusual to see someone sit in a sauna, run outside for a plunge in the snow, and then run back inside to warm up again. These types of routines, along with many others, help keep both body and mind active instead of developing a mentality of hibernation.
An Arctic Delight For Many
While it would seem that depression would be rampant during times of polar night, ironically that’s not the case. In fact, there have been a few studies conducted that have shown that mental health actually improves for many during the period of polar darkness. This may seem strange, but it shouldn’t be.
For those who choose to live in these areas, they have often learned to see the best in their situation. They don’t endure polar night, many of them relish it. Since polar darkness doesn’t mean total darkness (for many, there are periods of twilight), residents often take opportunities for cross-country skiing along the breathtaking fjords. Many folks look forward to watching the elusive northern lights radiate their majestic beauty across the snowy terrain. Others enjoy communal gatherings during the polar night period, as communities often go out of their way to encourage each other through the long winter.
Learn The Stories Behind The Sun From Rainbow Symphony
Now that you know what a polar night is, check out our Rainbow Symphony blog to learn more. We have a host of articles written by our experts that give you the fascinating stories behind the science.
If you have any questions about Rainbow Symphony or our products, reach out to our customer service team today!