Inaccurate reporting on the National Geographic Magazine

Just got acknowledgement from the National Geographic Society of some inaccuracy I have found on one of the articles published on their famous Magazine

The article is Gretel Ehrlich's "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", published in January 2006

Ms. Ehrlich writes: "[…] By the time the light fades about 11 p.m., we head toward shore […] About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief — in a few hours the sun will swing east again.[…]"

In fact, from the context of the article we know the above must have happened on the 19th or 20th of March ("[…] March 21, the vernal equinox and our fourth day on the sea ice […]"). So near the spring equinox, when as we all know there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness on the entire globe (Greenland included).

This puts into doubt the midnight fading sun reported above


To check the actual situation, I used the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's tool, that can be used online starting from

I entered the location for Qaanaaq (the town where Ms. Ehrlich was reporting from) as Longitude W 69deg 00min, Latitude N 77deg 40m

I assumed also that Qaanaaq, like the rest of Greenland, uses GMT-2 as its time zone

These are the results

Saturday 19 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:56
Sunrise                   08:36
Sun transit               14:44
Sunset                    20:55
End civil twilight        22:38

Sunday 20 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:39
Sunrise                   08:21
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:54
End civil twilight        22:38

Friday 19 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:46
Sunrise                   08:26
Sun transit               14:36
Sunset                    20:49
End civil twilight        22:32

Saturday 20 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:37
Sunrise                   08:19
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:56
End civil twilight        22:40


From the above it can be argued that, contrarily to what reported by Ms.Ehrlich:

  1. The light faded to below-twilight levels between 20 and 30 minutes before 11pm
  2. Accordingly, about midnight the sun was not visible, instead than being "a red horb hanging at the horizon"
  3. Nights were not brief (they were lasting between 11h20m and 11h40m)

Notably, conditions as reported by Ms. Ehrlich can be experienced in Qaanaaq around April 12

Monday 12 April 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Sunrise                   05:03
Sun transit               14:29
Sunset                    00:04 on following day

And it is not a problem of time zones. With the Sun transiting at 2h30pm, Qaanaaq's clock appears to be already 2 hours ahead of the local solar time


In summary, Ms.Ehrlich has incorrectly reported seeing a sunset much later than when it happened

This would be a minor accident in any magazine other than the National Geographic. However, as that publication is presumed to be a factual reporting of what happens in the world exactly as it happens, one can only hope that their editorial processes will be improved to catch elementary mistakes like the one above