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solstices — extremes of light and dark

OSummer Sunsetrkney summers are long, with almost continual daylight. In June, for example, the sun is above the horizon for over 18 hours. This is contrasted sharply by the long, dark, winter months, when the sun rises after 9am and begins to sink beneath the horizon again around 3.30pm.

This is due to the high latitude of Orkney (59 degrees north).

At the midsummer solstice, the sun rises in the north-east, around 4am, before setting again, in the north-west, at around 10.30pm. As such, the sun shines for six hours on north facing surfaces and is in the sky for some 18 hours.

But despite the long summer days, the altitude of the sun at noon is less than 60 degrees, so high temperatures are unusual.

When the summer sun finally sets, it remains just below the horizon so there is no true darkness - simply a period of extended twilight, known in dialect as the "simmer dim".

But there is a price to pay for the long hours of summer light.

By the time of the winter solstice, in December, the sun is rising in the south-east after 9am, setting around six hours later in the south-west.

During this "day" of weak, grey light, the sun barely reaches a midday altitude of ten degrees. What sunshine there is is dependent on the cloud cover at the time, which can often make for days of near darkness.

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