Novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises,” and like everywhere on Earth, it also rose in the tiny fishing town of Ilulissat, Greenland on January 11, 2011.
Except the sun wasn’t supposed to rise there until January 13th; it appeared in the sky a full two days early.
Astronomers agree that the sun should have ended its six week absence on January 13th. Yet as astounded residents of the tiny Greenland village watched, the sun crept up over the horizon at about 1 p.m. on the 11th. As far as anyone can determine, the sun has never risen early.
Some conspiracy-theory bloggers immediately dashed to their computers and posted that the current shift in the magnetic poles had somehow shifted the Earth physically on its axis. Others believed it to be a numerological spiritual sign signified by the date 1-11-11.
Not to worry, assured scientists, the early rising sun was most likely caused by the continuing ice sheet melt in parts of the Arctic Circle. The refraction of the ice and the atmosphere bent the light of the sun and allowed it to be seen two days early—despite the fact that the sun actually still lay below the horizon.
The same effect can often happen at sunsets. The refraction of light traveling through the thicker atmosphere nearer the horizon bends the sun’s light rays and allows it to be seen for several minutes longer than it’s actually visible—it’s already set.
It’s a plausible explanation, but they’re not certain it’s the right one.
As for the Earth keeling over on its axis? “The constellation of the stars has not changed and if it did the data of Earth’s axis and rotation would be monitored minute by minute all over the world,” Wolfgang Lenhardt, the head of the geophysics department at the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna told the UK Daily Mail during a brief interview. “The data of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s rotation are monitored continuously and meticulously and we would know if that had happened.”
The early appearance of the sun was most likely caused by topographical changes on the visible horizon brought about by the melting ice, asserted astronomer Thomas Posch from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Vienna. He stated that as the ice sinks the horizon drops and that’s “by far the most obvious explanation.”
The Austrian scientist also suggested that another explanation for the phenomenon might have been the by-product of an atmospheric disturbance.
A local broadcasting station—KBR radio—reported that the residents of Ilulissat became fearful and worried as the strange phenomenon unfolded during the early afternoon.
“The sun is not supposed to be here until January 13th, something isn’t right,” fretted a 74-year old Ilulissat resident to a KBR reporter. He said the sun had never, ever risen early for as far back as he could remember.