Last updated on 21 October 2017

Dawn (from an Old English verb dagian "to become day") or astronomical dawn is the time that marks, depending on the specific usage, the beginning of the twilight before sunrise,[1][2] the period of the pre-sunrise twilight or the time of sunrise.[2] When identified as the beginning of or the period of twilight, it is recognized by the presence of weak sunlight, while the Sun itself is still below the horizon.

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Dawn is sometimes considered the beginning of morning twilight (as depicted here), sometimes the period of twilight, and sometimes the time of sunrise.
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Skyline of Prague at dawn

Types of dawn

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Civil, nautical, and astronomical dawn, when defined as the beginning time of the corresponding twilight.[3]

Different definitions exist as to when dawn begins. The difference between these definitions is dependent on the amount of sunlight that is present in the sky, which can be correlated with the angular distance of the centre of the Sun (degrees) below the horizon, in the morning.

Astronomical dawn

Astronomical twilight begins when the sky is no longer completely dark after astronomical dawn. This occurs when the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the morning.[4] At this point a very small portion of the sun's rays illuminate the sky and the fainter stars begin to disappear. Astronomical dawn is often indistinguishable from night, especially in areas with light pollution. Astronomical dawn marks the beginning of astronomical twilight, which lasts until nautical dawn.[5]

Nautical dawn

Nautical twilight begins when there is enough illumination for sailors to distinguish the horizon at sea but the sky is too dark to perform outdoor activities (except with artificial light). Formally, nautical twilight begins when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon in the morning. The sky becomes light enough to clearly distinguish it from land and water. Nautical dawn marks the start of nautical twilight, which lasts until civil dawn.[5][4]

Civil dawn

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Beginning of morning civil twilight in southern California, United States

Civil twilight begins when there is enough light for most objects to be distinguishable, so that some outdoor activities, but not all, can commence. Formally, civil dawn occurs when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the morning.[4]

If the sky is clear, it is blue colored, and if there is some cloud or haze, there can be bronze, orange and yellow colours. Some bright stars and planets such as Venus and Jupiter are visible to the naked eye at civil dawn. This moment marks the start of civil twilight, which lasts until sunrise.[5]

Effects of latitude

The duration of the twilight period between first light and sunrise varies greatly depending on the observer's latitude, from a little over twenty minutes in equatorial regions, to many hours in polar regions, to several weeks at the poles.


All phases of dawn and dusk are shortest at the equator, where the Sun at equinox rises and sets at a right angle to the horizon; the steps between civil, nautical, and astronomical dawn or dusk correspond to only 24 minutes each. At all places on the earth, dawn and dusk times are fastest around the equinoxes and slowest at the summer and winter solstices.

Polar regions

As the calendar approaches the summer or winter solstice, the days or nights, respectively, get longer, which can have a potential impact on the time and duration of dawn and dusk. This effect is more pronounced closer to the poles, where the Sun rises at the spring equinox and sets at the autumn equinox, with a long period of dawn/dusk, lasting for a few weeks.

The polar circle (at 66°34′ N or S) is defined as the lowest latitude at which the Sun does not set at the summer solstice. Therefore, the angular radius of the polar circle is equal to the angle between the plane of Earth's equator and that of the ecliptic. This period of time with no sunset lengthens closer to the pole.

Near the summer solstice, latitudes higher than 54°34′ get no darker than nautical dawn/dusk; the "darkness of the night" varies greatly in these latitudes.

At latitudes higher than about 60°34, summer nights get no darker than civil dusk or dawn. This period of "bright nights" is longer at higher latitudes.


Around the summer solstice for instance, Glasgow, Scotland at 55°51′ N and Copenhagen, Denmark at 55°40′ N get a few hours of "night feeling", Oslo, Norway at 59°56′ N and Stockholm, Sweden at 59°19′ N seem very bright all the time the Sun is below the horizon. When the sun gets 9.0 to 9.5 degrees below the horizon (at summer solstice this is at latitudes 57°30′–57°00′), the zenith gets dark even on cloud-free nights (if there is no full moon); more than just the brightest stars are clearly visible in a large majority of the sky.

Mythology and religion

Many Indo-European mythologies have a dawn goddess, separate from the male Solar deity, her name deriving from PIE *h2ausos-, derivations of which include Greek Eos, Roman Aurora and Indian Ushas. Also related is Lithuanian Aušrinė, and possibly a Germanic *Austrōn- (whence the term Easter). In Sioux mythology, Anpao is an entity with two faces.

The Hindu dawn deity Ushas is female, whereas Surya, the Sun, and Aruṇa, the Sun's charioteer, are male. Ushas is one of the most prominent Rigvedic deities. The time of dawn is also referred to as the Brahmamuhurtham (Brahma is god of creation and muhurtham is a Hindu unit of time), and is considered an ideal time to perform spiritual activities, including meditation and yoga. In some parts of India, both Usha and Pratyusha (dusk) are worshiped along with the Sun during the festival of Chhath.

Prime is the fixed time of prayer of the traditional Divine Office (Canonical Hours) in Christian liturgy, said at the first hour of daylight.

In Islam, astronomical dawn (Arabic fajr) is the time of the first prayer of the day, and the beginning of the daily fast during Ramadan.

In Judaism, the question of how to calculate dawn (Hebrew Alos/Alot HaShachar, or Alos/Alot) is posed by the Talmud,[7] as it has many ramifications for Jewish law (such as the possible start time for certain daytime commandments, like prayer). The simple reading of the Talmud is that dawn takes place 72 minutes before sunrise. Others, including the Vilna Gaon, have the understanding that the Talmud's timeframe for dawn was referring specifically to an equinox day in Mesopotamia, and is therefore teaching that dawn should be calculated daily as commencing when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the horizon. The longstanding practice among most Sephardic Jews is to follow the first opinion, while many Ashkenazi Jews follow the latter view.

Dawn in art

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Mer du Nord by Guillaume Vogels


  • Homer uses the stock epithet "rosy-fingered Dawn" frequently in The Iliad and The Odyssey.
  • An aubade (Occitan Alba, German Tagelied) is a song about lovers having to separate at daybreak.
  • Aurora Musis amica (Dawn is a friend to the Muse), in Epigrammata Disticha Poetarum Latinorum, Veterum Et Recentum, Nobiliora (1642) by Barthold Nihus[8]

See also


  1. ^ The Random House College Dictionary, "dawn".
  2. ^ a b A note on sunrise, sunset and twilight times from HM Nautical Almanac Office, The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. Quoting: There is no general agreement on a precise definition of "dawn"; it is sometimes even identified with sunrise itself. If, however, it is interpreted as the time of "first light", dawn corresponds to a depression between 18° and 12° but it is not possible to be more precise'.
  3. ^ Van Flandern, T.; K. Pulkkinen (1980). "Low precision formulae for planetary positions". Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 31 (3): 391. Bibcode:1979ApJS...41..391V. doi:10.1086/190623.
  4. ^ a b c National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Astronomical Terms".
  5. ^ a b c https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/dawn.html
  6. ^ "New Dawn at La Silla". ESO Picture of the Week. European Southern Observatory. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  7. ^ Pesachim 94a
  8. ^ Nihus, Barthold (1642). Epigrammata disticha. Johannes Kinckius.

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