Thursday, February 20, 2014

No Latitude for Getting it Wrong

Recently, I was in an exchange with a girl in London. In my novel, I mentioned it getting dark around 9:00 PM in mid June. She commented that it does not get dark in mid June until 10:00PM. So, who was right?  If you have a knowledge of physical geography, you know we both were.

The discrepancy comes from the fact the difference in the lengths of days by season is greater in the high latitudes (areas closer to the poles) than the low latitudes (areas closer to the equator).

The novel I was writing takes place in the Ozarks, approximate latitude 37 degrees north, while London is at latitude  52 degrees north. If you know the latitude of a location, it's easy to calculate sunrise and sunset for that location by using an online generator such as the one here: . Sunset at 52 degrees north (London, UK) occurs at 8:24 on June 21.  At latitude 37 degrees north (Springfield, MO) the sun sets at 7:23 on this date.

I have compiled a small table mentioning selected cities, their latitudes, and the time of sunrise and sunset on June 21 and December 21. No adjustment for how far east or west of their time zone has been made.


City                        Lat.         June 21                                 Dec. 21

                                                Rise          Set                        Rise          Set

London UK        52            3:40 am   8:24 pm             7:25 am   4:31 pm

New York NY      41           4:28 am   7:36 pm             6:50 am   5:06 pm

Springifeld MO  37           4:41 am   7:23 pm             6:40 am    5:16 pm

New Orleans LA 30          4:59 am   7:04 pm             6:25 am    5:32 pm


As you can see from the table, the sun rises an hour earlier in London than it does in Springfield and sets an hour later. In winter it's nearly reversed, with sunrise forty-five minutes later in London and setting forty-five minutes later.  Furthermore, the length of days varies more for high-latitude locations than low-latitude locations.

It does not get instantly dark the moment the sun sets. There is a period of twilight. As a general rule there is enough twilight to read a book a half hour before sunrise or after sunset, there's enough twilight to make out basic land features a full hour before sunrise or after sunset.  Twilight lasts longer the closer to the poles you get. Of course, this assumes a clear sky.  Depending on cloud cover, the twilight could be nonexistent.

While studying to make your novel as authentic as possible, don't forget about the effects of latitude on your setting. Now that you know the secret, you have the knowledge to make your novel that much more realistic.



  1. Fascinating. That's something I never thought about directly, although I did look up the sunrise and sunset times for the date and location of my novel as I was writing, so I indirectly took that into account.

  2. A lot of authors wouldn't have thought to do that. It's why I wrote the article in the first place.

  3. When I've edited books, I've often looked up sunrise or sunrise, or moonrise and phases for authors. It's something that is a good attention for detail and while it might not lose you a reader, it can give you an opportunity to raise a reader's confidence in your storytelling.