Photo: Sun spilling over the earth

May 28, 2010

Flying over Greenland on a fight to Europe: not unusual. Not unusual, even, to see curious, remote, ice-scarred landscapes. But I was looking at this scene through my three windows in seat 2F (I’m convinced: best seat on the entire plane, an IcelandAir 757W) for some time before something made my scalp feel kind of funny.

It never got dark on our flight. We skirted the very edge of the curved track of sunlight across the planet. These mountains slipped below us at a time difficult to pinpoint, but it must have been something around three in the morning locally. OK, so picture this.

I was sitting on the starboard side of a plane flying roughly east. Thus, I was looking out of a window on the right side of the aircraft: looking south. Note the direction of the shadows! I’d been awake a long time and I was confused and time was loopy, but I was pretty sure of the various cardinal directions. The sun was coming from the north. How could that be?

David, slumming it back in 17F, was noticing the same thing. He was busy discussing the vagaries of BitTorrent with his young, Norwegian seatmates. One of them, Wilhelm (the first Wilhelm I’ve ever heard of who wasn’t also a Kaiser), was taking five iPads back to the mother country. They were all spellbound.

Later, David and I put our heads together and figured it out. We were far enough north that the sun, on the other side of the planet, was spilling over the top of the North Pole.