The Sun Rising in the North: How and Why Did this Natural Phenomenon Occurred?

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Carmina Joy in Bizzare

Last updated: 23 June 2020, 08:08 GMT


The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west - a fact we've all known since childhood. But in fact, the Sun's movements are a lot more complicated than that.

The Sun is at the center of attention again, following the weekend's annular solar eclipse. The spectacular event, combined with the summer solstice, saw the UK see its longest day of the year.



The Sunrise in North

People spotted bizarre goings-on in the sky. In fact, one confused reader told us they were shocked to see the Sun rise in the north this morning.

They told us they were up at just before 5am this morning, and recorded the Sun rising at approximately 23 degrees NE. But why exactly does this happen? Isn't the Sun supposed to rise in the east?

There's actually a very simple explanation, and it's all to do with two factors: the time of year and your latitude. So with the longest day of the year happening in the weekend just gone, this goes some way to explaining why our reader saw the sunrise in the north this morning.

The Sun’s movement along your horizon – at sunrise or sunset – is most perceptible around the equinoxes. The star’s daily change of position along the horizon is also more pronounced the farther north or south you are from Earth’s equator.

For example, at a latitude of 40 degrees north latitude, such as Sardinia or Beijing, the sun usually rises due east and sets due west on the day of the March 20 equinox. Two weeks later, on April 4, the Sun rises approximately seven degrees north of due east and sets roughly seven degrees north of due west.

Because the Sun’s diameter equates to half a degree, the Sun has been travelling its own diameter (14 days x half degree = 7 degrees) northward daily. At 65 degrees north latitude, such as Alaska or Iceland, the Sun also rises and sets close to due east and due west on the day of the equinox.

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The Scientific Explanation of the Natural Phenomenon

But two weeks later, on April 4, the Sun rises and sets approximately 14 degrees north of due east and west. Therefore, at this far-northern latitude, the Sun moves approximately one degree (two Sun-diameters) along the horizon daily during this two-week period from the spring equinox to April 4.

At mid-northern latitudes, there is a two to three week time period where you likely will not notice any movement of the Sun along the horizon, centred on the solstices. The best way to notice the movement of the sunset or sunrise along your horizon simply requires you to observe it from the exact same location every day.

Just note the Sun’s position now and note it again every week or 10 days. You should easily notice the Sun’s shift.

News the Sun shifts along the horizon coincides with reports our star could be "waking up", NASA has announced. The US space agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recently spotted the largest flare to come from the Sun since October 2017.

A solar flare is a flash of radiation from sunspots, cooler patches on the Sun's surface. NASA has also observed more of these sunspots and thinks the giant star could be about to enter a new cycle.

The Meaning of the Sun Rising in the North

The Sun actually has an 11-year cycle and increased activity hints it could be moving towards a more active stage. However, the strong solar flare spotted recently posed no threat to Earth and was not heading in our direction.

NASA said the flare was also not strong enough to alert scientists at the Space Weather Prediction Center. There has been little solar activity recently so astronomers have been keeping their eye on the Sun to see what happens next.

NASA will not know whether the new sunspots indicate increased activity for many more months. The space agency said: "It takes at least six months of solar observations and sunspot-counting after a minimum to know when it's occurred.

"Because that minimum is defined by the lowest number of sunspots in a cycle, scientists need to see the numbers consistently rising before they can determine when exactly they were at the bottom."