The long, hot summer days are but a distant memory as people around the world prepare to sip hot chocolate from beneath a pile of blankets. For most, the shorter days of winter aren’t really that different from the summer days. Sure, you might have to use your headlights to get home from work for a couple weeks in December, but things quickly begin to turn back around.
In some parts of the world, the winter season is a very different beast. As the latitude starts to reach the northern and southern extremes of the globe, cities plunge into darkness for weeks or even months at a time. This phenomenon is called polar night. Here are four places where you can experience darkness all winter long.
Longyearbyen literally translates to “The Longyear Town” and is considered one of the northernmost cities in the world. It was originally founded as a coal mining town by an American and has since developed thriving tourism and research industries.
In the winter, temperatures remain below freezing, and residents are encouraged to carry weapons to defend against the high population of polar bears in the area. But despite its harsh environment, people love visiting and living in Longyearbyen. Many people who go to visit end up staying for years at a time. Over the winter, the city experiences two and a half months of nighttime, but locals don’t let the darkness stop them! Every year Longyearbyen hosts the annual Dark Season Blues Festival to celebrate the coming of the polar night.
If you’re in Alaska and you keep heading north until you can’t go any more, that’s where you’ll find Utqiagvik. Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, is the northernmost city in the United States and is located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. On average, the temperature here does not go above freezing for almost 160 days per year. When the sun sets in the middle of November, it won’t come up again for another 65 days.
Even though the environment seems unforgiving, more than 4,000 people call this area home, mostly native Iñupiat Inuits. The town is unreachable by car, as there are no roads connecting it to central Alaska, so modern amenities are not common. Residents survive largely by hunting the abundant local wildlife. The most popular thing to do for entertainment in Utqiagvik is to simply enjoy the beauty of nature.
Inuvik is a small town of around 3,000 people located in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The only way to get there is via the Dempster Highway, a scenic 460-mile gravel road that links the Northwest Territories to the rest of Canada. In the winter, the sun doesn’t rise for almost the entire month of December.
Inuvik is a popular tourist destination in the summer where people enjoy 24-hour daylight for outdoor activities. The northernmost commercial greenhouse resides in Inuvik and takes advantage of the literally endless summer days to grow many fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be impossible to grow in the Arctic Circle. They also have the famous Our Lady of Victory Church, which is shaped like an igloo.
In the Southern Hemisphere, winter takes place from June 21 to September 20. During these months, the frosted arctic landscape will plunge into near darkness for all 24 hours of the day. While there are no permanent residents that call Antarctica home, there are always scientists present analyzing the unique environment.
At the Concordia station, scientists use the polar night to study the potential effects that long-term space missions might have on astronauts. Ironically, the people researching the effects of space travel in Antarctica are more remote than the real astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). The nearest humans are 373 miles away from Concordia, while the ISS is floating only 254 miles above the Earth.