Under the Midnight Sun: An Expedition to the Arctic Circle

Published: October 01, 2012

Midnight SunIn the Arctic Circle, the sun shines 24 hours a day for six months of the year.

This phenomenon, called the Midnight Sun, inspired physics professor Dr. Dinah L. Moché to seek first-hand knowledge to share with Queensborough astronomy students. She traveled thousands of miles and many degrees of latitude for a week-long expedition near the Lofoten Islands.

“The constant light had an amazing effect on me, both physically and emotionally,” said Dr. Moché.

“I had more energy for conducting research and taking part in activities that lasted late into the night.”

Dr. Moché noted the varied wildlife, including polar bears, and the stunning sound of iceberg calving. She points out that stars are in different positions depending on latitude, temperate zones and hemispheres. For example, in the southern hemisphere, moon phases look backward and stars, such as the constellation Orion, are seen upside down.

“I try to paint a vivid picture of the Arctic Circle—its remoteness, mountainous rocky terrain and permafrost. In fact, there are surprising parallels between the arctic and many of the planets we study, including Mars.”

Dinah MocheDr. Moché, author of Astronomy: A Self-Teaching Guide, added, “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus on the mystery and power of one star, the sun, the center of our solar system.”

Queensborough is home to one of New York City’s few observatories, located on the roof of the Kurt R. Schmeller Library. When it opened in 1979, it drew the attention of Mayor Ed Koch, who arrived on campus by helicopter. Depending on the weather, students and members of the community are invited to peer through the telescope to pinpoint star clusters such as the Pleiades.

Dr. Moché noted that Mars and Saturn are visible this month. “Imagine—you are looking a billion miles into space and seeing the rings of Saturn.”


Alice Doyle
Assistant Director of Public Relations