The Day of Darkness

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Polar Night

Today begins the day of darkness for the little known town of Utqiaġvik, Alaska. It’s one of the northernmost towns in Alaska. Inaccessible by land travel, the only option for getting to the small town is by plane.

The sun sets on November 18th and it remains below the horizon for over 60 days. This creates a polar night that lasts until the Sun returns to lightly touch the horizon, due to the refraction and scattering of the atmosphere, January 22 or January 23.

The sun then rises again completely over the horizon by January 27 or 28. During the first half of the polar night, there is a decreasing amount of twilight each day, and on the winter solstice (around December 21 or December 22), civil twilight in Utqiaġvik lasts for a mere 3 hours.

The day of darkness or a “polar night” lasts for over 60 days.

In addition to its low temperatures and polar night, Utqiaġvik is one of the cloudiest places on Earth. Owing to the prevailing easterly winds off the Arctic Ocean, Utqiaġvik is completely overcast slightly more than 50% of the year. It is at least 70% overcast some 62% of the time.

Utqiaġvik was previously known by the name of Barrow until 2016.

The name Barrow was derived from Point Barrow, and was originally a general designation, because non-native Alaskan residents found it easier to pronounce than the Inupiat name. A post office established in 1901 helped the name “Barrow” to become dominant. Point Barrow was named after Sir John Barrow of the British Admiralty by explorer Frederick William Beechey in 1825.

In an October 2016 referendum, city voters narrowly approved to change its name from Barrow to its traditional Iñupiaq name, Utqiaġvik. The name change was described as supporting the use of the Iñupiaq language and being part of a process of decolonization.

Archaeological sites in the area indicate the Iñupiat lived around Utqiaġvik as far back as AD 500.

The Day of Darkness

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