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Oregon Coast Sunsets: the Crazy, Mind-Bending Science; Longest Day of Year

Published 06/16/2016 at 6:11 AM PDT - Updated 06/16/2016 at 6:22 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

There are some things you can't see anywhere but an ocean environment like here

(Oregon Coast) – Updated with new photos, locations. When it comes to sunsets on these beaches, and certainly the upcoming summer solstice, there is much about this region that's very different from the general inland of Oregon, indeed the United States. There are some things you can't see anywhere but an ocean environment like here, but there is also some shockingly strange science behind how sunsets in general work. (Photo: a sunset at Warrenton.)

A lot of these freaky facts are relevant to any beach area of the world. Some of the weirdest, however, are applicable to the entire planet and will leave your head spinning.

Sunset is Seven Minutes Later on the Coast. Because of the distance between I-5 towns and the beaches (about 75 miles), the time given for sunset in the almanacs is different by a few minutes as well. Most sources are going by Portland time. Thus, there is about a seven-minute difference in sunset times between those listings and what you actually see on the coast. Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff timed it and found it happened later by that much time.

There are also other factors to take into account regarding these times. The largest is that inland towns have a blocked view of the actual horizon, such as nearby hills and the coast range. So they will see the sun disappear even earlier than almanac times predict. If you're in a place like much of Southeast Portland, the West Hills will cut off the sun from you even earlier.

Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland's OMSI, explained.

“They are talking about the true horizon, where it is zero degrees,” Todd said.

True horizon means they are referring to a landscape with nothing blocking the view. Zero degrees is where the horizon would be on an exactly flat plane, Todd explained.

The Oregon coast is where you can witness just that kind of flat landscape – or in this case, seascape.

Sunset Slightly Faster in Summer. The end of twilight is defined as when the sun dips 18 degrees below the horizon. Todd said this point is reached more quickly in the summer than in the winter, because of the arc of the sun. This means winter sunsets linger just a little longer than in summer.

Sunset is Actually a Projection – a Mirage. Here, the facts about sunset get even weirder. Not only is the sunset a kind of projection of the real sun, but we're seeing an eight-minute delay on top of that.

First, according to famed scientist Neil Degrasse-Tyson, sunlight takes about eight minutes to get to Earth. This means we're seeing the sun in a spot where it was about eight minutes ago. So, when it slips away below the horizon, it was actually in that spot (in relation to Earth) eight minutes ago.

Secondly – and even stranger still – sunset and sunrise are actually an illusion, according to DeGrasse-Tyson.

In his Fox Network show Cosmos a few years back, he said the sunset is actually a projection of where the sun was two minutes ago. Because of the way the Earth's round shape alters sunlight at that angle, there's a delay.

“Earth's atmosphere bends the incoming rays, like a lens or a glass of water,” he said in the show.

Sunset is delayed - while sunrise is seen sooner than it actually happens for the same reason. The sun has disappeared sooner than you see it do so, but the projection process holds onto the sunset about two minutes longer.

This dynamic isn't the same on land, except for maybe flatter, desert areas.

If all this sunset delay and projection talk is giving you a kind of time travel paradox headache, the strange facts get cooler. There are two other fascinating sights you may encounter on the Oregon coast that you won't find in most inland areas.

The Novaya Zemlya Effect. While apparently a rarity in many parts of the world, it may not be so much here on these beaches. (Above: the effect as seen at Arcadia Beach, near Cannon Beach).

This effect, named after the string of Russian islands called the Novaya Zemlya, involves seeing the sunset with a visible projection of itself above it. You'll see the actual orb cut off by the horizon, but above it is a set of narrow, rectangular bands of light or yet another part of an orb.

This can only happen on an ocean environment when there are clouds at the horizon and a certain set of weather conditions way out there. Again, it has to do with the way the Earth's curvature bends the light, but this time layers of different weather are out there to chop up the light and bend the rays yet again. They create these “projections” of light onto clouds and inversion layers in the area.

The Novaya Zemlya effect was caught recently by Oregon Coast Beach Connection near Cannon Beach. See article here. This fun phenomenon is sometimes accompanied by the Green Flash at sunset, which is also only seen on a flat plane environment like a coastline.

Green Flash at Sunset. Mostly a rare find on the Oregon coast, it too is caused by this same bending of light through the atmosphere – known as refraction. In this case, this delightful visage shows as a brief greenish blob just above the sunset or the outer areas of the sun turning green for a few seconds. Above: the green flash as it was seen at Bayocean, near Tillamook.

It's spectacular and surreal. A true mind-bending beauty. But it doesn't happen often. Oregon Coast Beach Connection has photographed a few times, however - including Bayocean, Seaside and Yachats, among others.

The reason for this sight is as the descends below the horizon, given the right conditions, the layers of atmosphere between you and the horizon knock out all the color bands except for green.

This summer solstice on June 20 has a few other interesting features. See the full article here. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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