Are you fond of night sky watching and all things astronomy?
Our planet has many intriguing and beguiling natural phenomena. We experience day and night on a regular basis, but we often ignore the beauty of transition. One of the most underappreciated examples is the beauty of dusk and dawn.
Did you know that we experience three stages of twilight every day? Astronomers determine the difference between these stages using the sun’s position in relation to the horizon. These magical stages last only between 1 to 2 hours, depending on the season.
It can be easy to define dawn vs dusk simply as sunrise and sunsets. However, there’s more to know about the types of twilight than you may think.
If you’re interested in finding out more, then keep reading. From the basics of dusk vs dawn to helpful tips on how to best experience them, this article covers it all.
Differentiating Dusk from Dawn
You might find yourself asking, what is dawn, what is dusk, and is there a difference? Although dusk and dawn are both beautiful in their own rights, there are differences. The big one is that dusk occurs right before the sun sets in the West.
Dawn, on the other hand, is when the sun rises from the East. In essence, the first glimmering of light that creates that beautiful effect on the horizon is a result of dawn. When the light fades as the sun dips, right as the orange glow fades, that is dusk.
Aside from that orange hue we’ve become familiar with, both dusk and dawn come in a variety of mesmerizing shades. These include red and orange, but also pink. Dawn tends to offer a brighter and more cheerful atmosphere.
This contrasts with dusk, which is more laid back and relaxed. Dusk also sports deeper colors due to the lack of light as it disappears. As a result, you’ll get rich oranges and sometimes even purples.
Different weather conditions and locations can affect this. We’ve all seen that iconic orange sunset over a beach. There’s also that bluish, almost purple light vanishing behind a mountain.
Dawn, by comparison, tends to hit you with immediately brighter shades. This is especially true as the light pours over the horizon. What’s great about dawn and dusk is that they vary depending on time, place, and condition.
Biological Dusk and Dawn
It’s worth pointing out that there are two types of dusk and dawn. First, there’s the natural, scientific phenomenon and the biological definition. This latter one refers to our body clocks and how we understand day and night.
Our circadian rhythms have adjusted over millennia to correlate with dawn and dusk. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to disrupt this by making regular nightlife possible. This has messed with some of the ways our bodies react to the cyclical nature of dusk and dawn.
However, for many of us, this isn’t the case. Try sitting out to observe dawn vs dusk, and you’ll see the difference. One puts you in a relaxed and contemplative mood.
In essence, it helps you wind down after the day and signals the transition to night. The other, dawn, fills you with energy and a sense of new possibilities as a new day starts. The extra light during dawn helps our bodies and minds to wake up and tackle what’s ahead.
These feelings are actually hardwired into our biologies, no matter where we are. You only need to sit outside at the right time with good visibility to get it.
What is Twilight?
By definition, twilight is that period before the light has completely broken or disappeared over the horizon. It’s right when you see that first glimmer of light poke through during dawn or get snuffed out during dusk. Because of this, there are two moments of twilight each day.
The variety of how long twilight lasts can also vary. At the equator, it’s over after only 24 minutes. It can go on for as long as six weeks at the north and south poles, which is insane. There are also three types of twilight. The first is civil twilight, followed by nautical and astronomical twilight. They’ll always occur in that same order, no matter where you are in the world.
Civil twilight is that phase most of us are familiar with when we talk about twilight. It’s the brightest point when the horizon is completely illuminated. The term “civil” refers to the fact it’s when most people see and can notice it.
At this point, other than the horizon, you can only see the brightest celestial bodies. Most cities will start turning on their night lights around this time, which can ruin the view for many. Going to remote places without cars or streetlights can enhance the effect.
Nautical twilight is when things get difficult to see. During nautical twilight, the horizon is almost invisible. It gets its name from when sailors needed to navigate by starlight.
During nautical twilight, the sky is dark enough for most stars to start being visible to the naked eye. This allowed sailors to navigate while they still had a touch of residual light left to work with. By the time nautical twilight occurs, most of the neon signs and bright lights of modern cities are in full effect.
This can create pretty effects, especially if you like the “blade runner” aesthetic. That said, escaping to somewhere more remote is better. It allows you to appreciate better the natural beauty of dusk, dawn, and twilight.
Astronomical twilight is the darkest point where you can’t even see the horizon. It occurs either as the first stage before sunrise or the last stage before dusk turns into night. You can see the Milky Way and even some of the faintest stars during astronomical twilight.
Conditions like the weather will matter, but in general, it’s one of the best times for stargazing. The moon’s brightness is beautiful but can also affect your ability to see some features. To see distant galaxies and other celestial bodies, you’ll need complete darkness.
Another stargazing tip is having a quality telescope. That said, if you sit through all 3 phases, you’ll get the full gambit of what even the naked eye can see. Once you’ve seen it once, twilight is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Things Best Done During These Times
One of the best things to do during twilight is to try and capture the beauty of the glow as it fades or strengthens. Clear visibility and a high vantage point are helpful to get the best photos or telescope views. If dawn and dusk have already begun, dusk is the better time for photographs.
This is because the dimming light can still provide stunning views. This is especially if it reflects off of a body of water. Dawn can also provide excellent opportunities for photos. The first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset is also known as the “golden hour” by photographers.
However, the brightness peaking over the horizon can sometimes feel blinding. This makes it hard to get good lighting during dawn if you don’t know what you’re doing. For astronomy fans, dusk also gives you a little bit more leeway.
This is because the beauty of twilight in the evening will fade into the night, giving you optimal visibility. If you miss your twilight window before dawn, you won’t be able to see celestial bodies as well. It’s worth experiencing both to appreciate the difference and admire the view.
The Science Behind these Natural Wonders
The science behind the workings of dusk, dawn, and twilight is relatively straightforward. Civil, nautical, and astronomical twilight occur when the sun is a certain angle below the horizon. For civil, it’s 0-6 degrees, and for nautical and astronomical, it’s 6-12 and 12-18 degrees.
The reason we have twilight is that our planet has its own atmosphere. This atmosphere causes light to scatter and illuminate our sky. This means that even when the sun is gone, the residual scattered light it creates is enough.
This is what creates that subtle glow that marks twilight. It’s like we can see the sun coming or going, even when it’s still out of view. Of course, it’s the earth that’s spinning and orbiting around the sun.
That said, the principle still stands.
Once in a Lifetime Events
There’s more to dawn vs dusk than what people see. There are also times when they serve as makers or “backdrops” for main events. Some of these events only happen once in a lifetime.
A Few Examples
One of the most recent ones was a ring of fire eclipse that happened at dawn. It happened peak summer on June 10, 2021. Unfortunately, only a few locations were able to view it in its full glory.
It’s only common for most astronomy nuts to prefer these times to during mid-daylights. The main reason is it’s hard to see the beauty of stars, meteors, planets, and galaxies when the sun is out. This is why it’s best to try to catch them before dawn or around dusk.
A good example of this is the famous Milky Way. In some places, the best time to catch it is at its peak in the sky ranges. So if you plan to catch a glimpse of this sight, it’s best to go a few hours before dawn.
Another recent and notable event was when Jupiter and Saturn merged in the night sky. Experts have said that this event last happened was in the 17th century – back in Galileo’s time. Although two planets finding a place at the same time in the sky isn’t all that rare, this event was.
This is because it takes Jupiter about 20earth years to pass Saturn as it revolves around the sun. For the pair to be this close and visible around and after dusk was a spectacle for most astronomers. This is because celestial occurrences are easier to view and see at night.
Why They’re Difficult to Appreciate
Dawn, dusk, and twilight are marvelous events on their own. These naturally occurring phenomena are quite difficult to appreciate nowadays, though. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most significant would be human activity and pollution.
This is especially the case if you live in a bustling city with tall skyscrapers and light pollution. The bright lights that come from lamps, billboards, and even traffic are major factors. These, on top of the smog and air pollution in cities, prove to be limiting.
It’s also getting more difficult to find the right place and spot to enjoy them. Have you ever taken a good look at some of the best photos taken during these times? Most of the time, they’re somewhere remote or isolated.
This proves how much better the light refracts and reflects without man-made pollution. Additionally, there’s also having the right equipment, gear, and knowledge. This is true for most astronomical enthusiasts.
It doesn’t matter if they’re only there to enjoy the scenery or are planning to observe events. A good telescope, HD camera, and on-point information make all the difference. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give things a shot, too.
Find the right spot, and do some research – check out astronomy forums or blogs. Go and visit a recommended spot and experience nature’s masterpiece unfold right before your eyes.
All About Dawn vs Dusk
Don’t take the beauty of our everyday environment for granted. Find out more today on some of the best things waiting for you right by your doorstep. Explore and discover our world more, and dawn vs dusk is only the first step.
Look out into the skies and see what they might reveal to you. Here at Astrojunkies, we can help unlock all of these for you. For any questions or more information, contact us today.