Trying to calculate the exact moment of sunrise isn’t easy. In fact, the U.S. Naval Observatory says it’s nearly impossible because of the way light bends in the atmosphere.
However, the Naval Observatory does predict the minute at which the sun’s rays will shine on every city and town in the United States. Sadly, the Naval Observatory’s website was down for maintenance in late 2019 and wasn’t scheduled to be up again until mid-2020.
As the easternmost state in the United States, Mainers boast the first sunlight falls on its shores. But it really falls on Nantucket.
Massachusetts’ First Sunrise
Climb to Nantucket’s 111-foot Sankaty Bluff in Siasconset, and you’ll likely see the first sunrise of 2020 in the United States.
In 1999, astronomers tried to settle a dispute about where the first sunrise would dawn on the new millennium. They argued over whether the sun would rise first over Lubec, Maine, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park or Siasconset on Nantucket.
Though the National U.S. Naval Observatory claimed the sun would rise first – by two minutes – in Lubec, astronomer Vladimir Strelnitski believed otherwise. According to his calculations, the sun would rise at Sankaty Bluff before it rose either on top of Cadillac Mountain or in Lubec.
Strelnitski, who ran the Maria Mitchell Observatory at the time, arranged a three-way conference call on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. People gathered at dawn at all three locations.
At 7:04 a.m., the sun’s rays hit Sankaty Bluff. Thirty seconds later, the sun rose on Cadillac Mountain. Thirty-three seconds after that, sunlight hit West Quoddy Head in Lubec.
Maine’s First Sunrise
West Quoddy Head Light is as picturesque a place as there is to watch the first – well, the first-ish – sunrise, which happen at 7:06 am in 2020. But Maine’s first sunrise is actually on Cadillac Mountain (see above).
Visitors to Acadia National Park like to hike or drive to the mountaintop to see the first dawn. The U.S. Naval Observatory pegs the New Year’s Day sunrise at 7:08 am on the mountain, but calculates it at sea level. So unless we’re missing something, the sun will rise on Cadillac Mountain half a minute before it rises in Lubec.
However, Cadillac doesn’t always see the first sunrise. From March 25 to Sept. 18, the sun rises first on Mars Hill, 150 miles to the northeast on the Canadian border.
About a minute after the sun comes up on Cadillac Mountain, it rises at the peak of Mount Katahdin. That’s also the moment Miami Beach sees the first sunrise.
Rhode Island’s First Sunrise
Little Compton will first see the sun come up over Rhode Island at 7:11 am.
You might want to watch the sunrise from Sakonnet Point, the southernmost point in Little Compton. It has beaches, plenty of birds and the Sakonnet Point Lighthouse, built in 1884. Islands lie just off the coast and on one you can see the remains of the West Island Fishing Club. J.P. Morgan and President Glover Cleveland once belonged as members.
If you’re willing to wait another few seconds, the sun rises on Block Island shortly thereafter.
Connecticut’s First Sunrise
There’s little dispute about where the first dawn will break over Connecticut. The state’s southeasternmost town — Stonington — will see the sunrise at 7:13 am, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. The sun’s rays first fall on nearby Groton about 40 seconds later, then on New London a few ticks after that.
Though Connecticut’s first rays appear about eight minutes past the sun’s first appearance in the United States, the southeastern section of the state offers many consolations.
Stonington itself has a historic lighthouse, the Mystic Bridge Historic District, historic house museums and the sets for the films Mystic Pizza and Amistad.
Whaling once bought considerable wealth to nearby New London. The city now has many cultural and historic attractions, including, the Joshua Hempstead House, the landing site of the Amistad at the U.S. Custom House and Ye Antientist Burial Ground, one of the oldest cemeteries in New England.
New Hampshire’s First Sunrise
At 7:14 am, the sun’s first rays will strike the town of New Castle, N.H. A few seconds later, they’ll hit Hampton. Then the sun will rise on Seabrook and Portsmouth.
There are plenty of great spots along New Hampshire’s 18-mile seacoast to watch the sun first rise in 2020: along the boardwalk in Hampton Beach, by the large old homes of Little Boar’s Head, the beaches in Rye or by Wentworth-By-The-Sea in New Castle.
Vermont’s First Sunrise
Vernon in the southeast corner of Vermont will see the state’s first sunrise at 7:20 a.m. About half a minute later, Guilford will see it, then Brattleboro will see it. Putney sees the sunrise seconds after Brattleboro.
Steep hills surround the towns, which belong to the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont’s lowest elevation. So you may want to climb Round Mountain or Putney Mountain to shave a few seconds off the sunrise.
Images: Sankaty Light By EWM – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15305621; Cadillac Mountain Sunrise By JetsonJones – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26798494; Plaice Cove By Steve Hedin, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40842204; Vernon, Vt., road chapel, By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49797570; Sakonnet Light By Zhengan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50957093.
This story was updated in 2020.
I’m surprised Mount Washington wouldn’t see the sun before the NH seacoast.
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