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Disclaimer: I am aware that this post contains a quotation with a grammatical error, but this post is about astronomy and geography, not grammar. I do not always care about correct grammar. I affirm that the person who said this knows grammar, and I believe using correct grammar would detract from the flow of said quotation. Also, there is plenty of precedence for this.

In a week or so, just like every summer, I know I’ll really start noticing that each day it gets darker earlier and earlier. I’ll start stating the obvious, like “I can’t believe how dark it is!,” and it’ll be all downhill from there.

When I start to notice the sun setting earlier, I always think of this old saying my relative (who may prefer to remain anonymous) made up:

The further it goes along, the quicker it comes down sooner.

Confused? Once you get past the fact that the two “it”s are referring to different things (the first one is summer, the second is the sun), it’s really a very concise explanation:

  • A few days after the summer solstice is the latest sunset, after which the sun sets a little earlier each night (comes down sooner).
  • As the summer goes along (the further the summer goes along), the time difference from one sunset to another is greater each day (the time changes, um, more quickly).

See, isn’t the long explanation kind of more confusing that this handy saying? I think so.

This saying was invented after many sunsets were observed at the beach where my family spends summer vacations. The beach faces north, so you can see both the sunrise and the sunset. Not only does the time of sunset change, but the sun sets at a slightly different point on the horizon each night, moving further south as summer progresses.

I looked through my own pictures for sunsets to illustrate this, but they were hilariously meaningless and unhelpful. They were taken on different days of the year and at various times of the evening, but the real problem is that they were also taken from different spots on the beach, some perhaps close to a mile apart.

These two are the best I can do. They were taken about seven weeks apart (although in different years), but the sun appears to be roughly the same distance above the horizon in both, so the actual times relative to when the sun will set are comparable. Also they look to me to be taken from approximately the same place, within 100 feet or so, so I think the distance the sun has appeared to move south is fairly accurate.

June 24, 2013, 9:10 pm

June 24, 2013, 9:10 pm, just a few days after the solstice…

August 13, 2010, 8:34 pm

… and August 13, 2010, 8:34 pm. A dramatic difference, no?