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Two Sunsets for the Price of One in Kotzebue

August 8, 1986 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ The biggest and northernmost state in the union is getting an extra sunset or two these days, thanks to a combination of physics and politics.

The sun set twice Thursday, once at 12:04 a.m. and again at midnight, the National Weather Service said.

The phenomenon of two sunsets in a 24-hour period isn’t unusual in the Northern Hemisphere as days grow shorter after the summer solstice. But when Alaska squeezed its four time zones into two in October 1983, it put clock time about two hours behind sun time on Alaska’s western edge, making two sunsets possible in a single calendar day.

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The physics of the double sunset comes from the Earth’s rotation around the sun, its axis tilted 23 1/2 degrees. In summer, the northern latitudes are inclined toward the sun; in winter, away.

In the northern reaches, the hours of daylight dwindle rapidly after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. As the Earth moves toward winter solstice, there is a point where two sunsets can occur in a 24-hour period.

The same-day sunsets became possible when the state reduced its time zones to put about 99 percent of Alaska’s population into a single time zone, allowing business and government in most of the state to work the same hours.

On Monday, politics and physics gave Nome two sunsets. The same happened in Kotzebue on Thursday.

If the time zones had remained as before, there would have been two sunsets within a 24-hour period, but not on the same calendar day.

″It looks like some sort of glitch in the computer system,″ said Wally Younker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. ″I was never aware of it.″

Neither was Kotzebue Mayor Nina Dahl. ″We should do something to make the people here and tourists more aware of it,″ she said. ″Maybe we could do something next year.″