Just recently, a friend shared an article from Manila Bulletin’s website titled “36 hours of darkness in US likely on October 17”. I read it and had an impression that this could be another nonsense rumor like the Mars Hoax , based on my own knowledge of these things. However, the writer claimed that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said that this event “may partially hold true“.
Quoting the original article, it says
Online and text rumors claiming that the sun will rise continuously for 36 hours on October 17, 2010 in some parts of the world and leave the United States in darkness for 36 hours may partially hold true, an official of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said on Wednesday.
The report spreading through e-mails and text messages noted that this “coming October 17, 2010, the sun will rise continuously for 36 hours (1.5 days). During this time, the American countries will be dark for 1.5 days. It will convert three days into two big days. It will happen once in 2,400 yrs.”
I did my own research on this topic to know more and I learned that the same article with the same author, Ellalyn de Vera, was also featured in Yahoo News – Philippines and in another local newspaper, Tempo. Other than these, only a few websites had discussions which debunked this topic. Following are some of them:
“The further north you go, the longer the days. This may be true near the arctic circle, but not for the US, other than Alaska. And it certainly does not happen just over two to three days. Arctic days and nights are gradual things, lengthening and shortening over the course of a year. For it to happen just for the day, the Earth would need to slow down its rate of spin. Not possible for a body as massive as the Earth, without destroying itself as the energy from angular momentum changes so abruptly.” (This is one of the best logical explanations I found.)
Most of the websites above clearly said that this “hoax” originated in India and circulated in emails and text messages since 2008.
To further confirm the information contained in the article, I decided to visit the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory in U.P. Diliman to look for Engr. Dario dela Cruz, officer-in-charge of the PAGASA space sciences and astronomy section. Unfortunately, he was not there during that time so I just talked to Sir Mario, the head of the Observatory about the article.
I showed Sir Mario a copy which I printed from the Internet and he told me that it was the first time he had seen the news report.
We spent a few minutes talking. There were several important points raised during our discussion which I will list down here:
(1) Engr. dela Cruz’s statement below is true.
“After we experience the equinox during September, countries located in the Southern Hemisphere begin to observe longer days, as against those in Northern Hemisphere that observe longer nights, which include the northernmost part of the United States.
Starting September 24, there is a gradual decrease in the number of hours of nighttime as we go below the latitude. Countries located above 66.5 degrees are those that only experience a whole day of darkness.”
(2) However, if the “36 Hours of Darkness” will happen, the possibility of its occurrence will just be limited to the northernmost or southernmost part of the globe like the north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. (see diagram below for visualization)
(3) Currently, the most number of hours in which the sun would not set (also called the Midnight Sun) or rise is only for 24 hours and it happens mostly north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle, never in any part of America which is located at lower latitudes.
(4) This event, the Midnight sun, is a natural phenomenon and it happens every year, not just every 2,400 yrs as was claimed in the article.
(5) There is still no scientific evidence based on data and computations that the 36 hours of darkness is likely to occur. The basis for the expected date October 17, 2010 wherein it was said to happen was still unknown to them.
(6) If this was to happen, it was only logical that the event should fall near solstices, and not near equinoxes.(September Equinox this year)
So based on Sir Mario’s explanations, the claim in the article about having “36 hours of Darkness” is more likely just a misinterpretation or simply a HOAX.
* * *
Equinox – occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. The term equinox can also be used in a broader sense, meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long. This year, equinox falls on March 20 and September 23.
Solstice – either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter solstice occurs about December 21, when the sun is over the tropic of Capricorn. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest.
image credit: Google images
A lot of Filipino amateur astronomers including me 😀 are excited for this month’s sky display.
For Philippine observers, the annual Perseids Meteor Shower which often shows 50 meteors per hour will be observed with its peak on the late night of August 12-13. The Perseids appear to radiate out from the constellation Perseus, which is located in the eastern horizon during August.
2010 is a great year for the Perseids. This year, the slender waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, leaving a dark sky for this year’s Perseid show.
The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. The Perseid Meteor Shower is famous for its Earthgrazers –meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping the surface of a pond. Earthgrazers are long, slow and colorful; they are among the most beautiful of meteors.
The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is nowhere near Earth, the comet’s tail does intersect Earth’s orbit. We glide through it every year in August. Tiny bits of comet dust hit Earth’s atmosphere traveling 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a smidgen of dust makes a vivid streak of light–a meteor–when it disintegrates.
Friday the 13th will never be unlucky for sky observers on this night. Those who plan to watch the Perseids will also have the chance to see a beautiful planetary grouping before the radiant rise in the East.
Coincidentally, on August 13 at around 7pm the crescent Moon will join the groupings of Mars, Venus, Saturn and Mercury in the western horizon.
Happy observing and Clear Skies to all!