Share your solstice sunset with NOAA Education!

December 18, 2020

Join NOAA Education in learning about the winter solstice. The solstice occurs on the shortest day of the year, which is when the Earth's north pole is located furthest away from the sun.

You can see the day/night difference on the solstice in these three satellite images.

These three images from NOAA's GOES East (GOES-16) satellite show us what Earth looks like from space near the solstice. The images were captured about 24 hours before the 2018 solstice, at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2018.

What does the sunset on the day of the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — look like where you live? This year, the solstice happens on December 21 at 5:02 am Eastern time.  A few days before the winter solstice, NOAA educators from up and down the east coast shared what the sun looked like at approximately 4:45 pm Eastern time in their neck of the woods. Even though we took these pictures at the same time of day, they looked different. Why?

A photo of the location of the sun a few days before the winter solstice at 4:45pm over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.
Burlington, Vermont (44.48° N, 73.21° W)
A photo of the location of the sun a few days before the winter solstice at 4:45pm in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. (38.99° N, 77.03° W)
A photo of the location of the sun (behind some clouds!) a few days before the winter solstice at 4:45pm in Tampa, Florida.
Tampa, Florida (27.94° N, 82.52° W)

The winter solstice happens when the North Pole is tilted the farthest away from the sun. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, but the length of the day varies based on latitude; the farther north you are, the shorter the day as the sun rises later and sets earlier. If you’re in the Arctic Circle, there is no sunlight at all! For locations at similar latitudes, sunrise and sunset times also vary by longitude. Because of the Earth’s rotation, the sun appears to move east to west in our sky, so locations farther west in the same time zone will have a later sunset. For example, the sunset in Washington, D.C., occurs 29 minutes before the sunset in Cincinnati, Ohio, even though they are both at similar latitudes (approximately 39° N).  

We’d love to see what the sunset looks like on the solstice wherever you live! Share your photos with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by tagging us @NOAAeducation. Be sure to let us know what city you’re in and what time you took your photo.

NOAA’s solar calculator can help you to figure out the perfect timing for your sunset photographs on the winter solstice, or any day of the year. If you’re interested in learning how to calculate the sunrise and sunset for any date from 1901 to 2099, you can do so yourself using these solar calculations