Winter's arrived, which in Alaska means spring is coming

Anchorage Daily NewsDecember 21, 2009 

WASHINGTON — About 12 minutes, enough time for a leisurely coffee break -- that's how much daylight we'll pick up in Anchorage due mostly to later sunsets between today and Jan. 1.

The winter solstice, after which the days begin to lengthen, was officially at 8:47 a.m. Monday in Anchorage.

The solstice is the day in which the earth appears to stand still and then shifts direction in its elliptical orbit of the sun.

Depending on which guide you look at, the sun sets in Anchorage Monday at around 3:41 p.m., but hangs on longer and longer until by Jan. 1, it sets at around 3:53 p.m.

Twelve precious minutes.

During that time, sunrise times change little, but the sun begins rising earlier each day around Jan. 2.

At this time of year, the sun moves north in the sky, and it's also moving to the east. As a result, that means it will rise later and set later, said UAA astronomer Travis Rector.

He notes the times aren't exact because we're not in the center of our time zone, and the sunrise-sunset guides don't take into account geography, such as the Chugach Mountains. The guides assume everything is flat, and that when the sun comes up, it's really up, not lingering behind a mountain.

But the principles still apply.

Rector on Friday used the new UAA planetarium to show how the sun not only stays out longer, but rises a bit higher in the sky each day after today's solstice.

The sun here never gets directly overhead -- you have to be in zone around the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, for that to happen, says Rector.

But for the winter weary, it's worth noting that the sun's place higher in the sky still makes a difference here.

A higher sun that stays out longer means more warmth, a few short weeks from now.

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