The Sun Actually Still Hasn’t Set on the British Empire (as well as some others)

The expression that the sun never set on the British Empire reflected the fact that Britain’s empire consisted of land all around the world, such that it was always daytime somewhere in the British empire. Since then, the British Empire has fallen, but actually even until today not far enough for the sun to not set on it. Believe it or not, with the UK’s present-day territories, it is still daytime somewhere in the UK all the time.

A sufficient (but not necessary) condition for the sun to not set on a country is for there to exist no 180° span of longitude in either hemisphere without land belonging to the country. The UK accomplishes this among its territories in the Southern Hemisphere with the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)* (72°E), Ascension Island** (14°W), and Pitcairn Island*** (130°W).

*This is, by the way, the place for which .io is intended to be the top-level domain.
**I purposefully chose Ascension Island rather than the Falkland Islands to represent this portion of the world to more respect the disputed status of the latter with Argentina.*****
***Since I decided to make asterisked remarks for each of the previous two items in this list, I’ll also make one for the third for symmetry, which is just going to be this vacuous remark since I don’t think I actually have anything to say about Pitcairn Island. ****
****Although I seem to have successfully made each asterisked remark take as many lines as there are asterisks to denote that remark, at least on compatible systems until I change the font for my blog again, which I’m fairly sure I won’t do, but for which now you, future reader, will know what to look out for.
*****It turns out the BIOT is also disputed land. In fact, it is land that imperialist powers have managed to evict the native population from, so it’s arguably a more thirdraily case than the Argentinian dispute. Should the BIOT gain independence or come under Mauritian sovereignty, the sun will set on the British empire for sure. This would also happen if Pitcairn Island declared independence.

Unfortunately, the UK does not have this for the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately (for the empire), this condition is sufficient but not necessary. We must now ensure that on the Northern-hemisphere summer solstice (the peak of Southern-hemisphere winter), the Southern hemisphere lands span enough longitude for there to always be some land in daylight even with the reduced day lengths. Indeed, this is the case. Pitcairn Island, the further south of these three territories, is only 25°S, thus on the shortest day still having 10.5 hours of sunlight. The other two territories, at only 7°S, have more than 11.5 hours of sunlight on their shortest day. Thus, the 158° longitude gap between the BIOT and Pitcairn Island is minded and even in June the sun never sets on the UK by the skin of its teeth (a few degrees of longitude).

The UK is in fact not the only present-day country the sun never sets on. New Caledonia (22°S,166°E), Réunion (21°S,56°E), French Guiana (4°N,53°W), and Tahiti (18°S,149°W) prevent the sun from setting on France.

There are also several countries for which the sun doesn’t set for a significant amount of the year. Since Russia spans from 20°E to 168°W, nearly half the Earth longitudinally, the sun never sets on Russia for a substantial amount of the year, that is, nearly all days in the Northern-hemisphere spring and summer. All eight countries with land north of the Arctic Circle (Russia, Canada, United States, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland) experience the sun not setting on them at least one day of the year. If one recognizes Antarctic territories, then Argentina, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand may join this party as well.

Disregarding territories, the smallest pair of countries that together the sun never sets on is {Ecuador, Singapore}, followed by {Taiwan, Paraguay}, assuming an independent Taiwan. The latter pair is rather fitting, as Paraguay is one of only a couple dozen countries in the world that recognize the Republic of China as the legitimate government of China.


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