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Summer Solstice Along Oregon / Washington Coast: Astronomy Parties, Curious Facts

Published 06/15/22 at 5:05 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Summer Solstice Along Oregon / Washington Coast: Astronomy Parties, Curious Facts

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(Portland, Oregon) – The longest day of the year and the beginning of summer – believe it or not – is coming next week to an Oregon coast or Washington coast beach near you. Though this has certainly been the other “Bummer Summer” for the western parts of the states (not unlike 2010's dreary summer full of clouds), it's a good thing actual summer has not quite happened yet. (Above: Bandon, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more.)

Meanwhile, in the astronomy sense, the Summer Solstice on June 21 begins at 2:13 a.m., according to OMSI expert Jim Todd, and there's more to it than just the longest day of the year. It displays a slightly trippy bit of almost time-travel for that day, and there are some star parties happening in northwest Oregon to celebrate, including the Oregon Coast Range.

Todd said this is when the Earth is tilted and the north pole is closest to the sun. However, oddly enough, our planet will be at its farthest point from the sun on July 5, known as aphelion.

“The summer solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun at its maximum of 23° 26',” Todd said. “Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the Polar Regions (where daylight is continuous for many months during the spring and summer), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. Thus the seasonal significance of the Summer solstice is in the reversal of the gradual shortening of nights and lengthening of days.”

Summer solstice happens in June here in the Northern Hemisphere but in December the Southern Hemisphere gets the honor.

“For the summer solstice, the sun will reach its highest northern point in the sky at 67.54 degrees from the horizon,” Todd said. “The earth is tilted so that the north pole is at its closest point with the sun. As a result, there will be more minutes of sunlight in the northern hemisphere than there are at any other time of the year.”

Yet this is where some fun and tricky parts of sunset come into play: the differences between sundown on the coastline and inland, in places like the I-5 corridor. On the Oregon or Washington coast, sunset occurs later than sunset in the valley or places like Seattle, at least on paper. Sunset times are always estimated by a flat plain from which to observe the sun. So technically, Westport in Washington gets sunset at 9:15 p.m. on summer solstice, whereas in Seattle it's 9:11 p.m.

In Portland, sunset that day is at 9:03 p.m., but head to the north Oregon coast and spots like Seaside, it's seven minutes later. Oregon Coast Beach Connection actually tested this once on summer solstice in Warrenton and sunset was exactly seven minutes later than Portland.

However, these times shift all around the farther north you go or the farther south. Coos Bay, for example, gets sundown at 9:01 p.m., before Portland, but only slightly later than south Oregon spots like Medford. Lincoln City clocks in at 9:06 p.m. They're also greatly affected by the presence of mountain areas like the Coast Range or the West Hills near downtown Portland.

Technically, if you want just a few more minutes of daylight and you're in Portland, head to Seaside by the end of the day and you'll get an extra seven minutes.

Meanwhile, there are two big events to celebrate this. On Saturday, June 18, OMSI and Rose City Astronomers will a free Star Party: one at Rooster Rock State Park in the Gorge the other in the Coast Range Stub Stewart State Park. Both start at sunset. From beginners to experts of all ages, here's your opportunity to view the stars and other objects through a variety of telescopes.

The event starts at sunset and is free with $5 parking per vehicle. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.

On the scheduled day of each OMSI Star Party, it is suggested that interested visitors check OMSI webpage for possible weather-related cancellations.

Want some truly wild facts about sunset? Try the fact we see sunset much later than it really happens: it's technically a projection. And that light from the sun you get in places like Manzanita, Bandon or Long Beach? It's rather old. See Sunset Science: Dusk Isn't What It Seems on Oregon, Washington Coast.

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Near Florence

Westport, Washington, courtesy Washington State Parks

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