How Many Minutes Before Sunrise Is It Pretty?

Mia Chow · Nov 7, 2023 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

There's something undeniably magical about a sunrise. It's a daily phenomenon that never fails to remind us of the world's natural beauty and the promise each new day holds. But have you ever wondered just how early you need to set your alarm to witness the full, glorious prelude to the sunrise? How many minutes before those first slivers of sun peek over the horizon does the sky start its color-filled show? Let's find out!

The Prelude to the Sunrise

Sunrise is more than just the moment the sun edges above the horizon. It's actually a part of a larger, stunning natural event known as the "twilight period," which is divided into three phases:

Civil Twilight

Begins roughly 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise. This is when the sky starts to lighten up and the highest clouds catch the first pink, orange, and red hues that make for Instagram-worthy photos. It's also the time when features on the ground start to become visible. If you're a photographer or a romantic at heart, this is your cue to grab your camera (or your coffee) and start watching.

Nautical Twilight

Occurs before civil twilight, starting about 60 minutes before sunrise. The horizon is still discernible, and sailors once used this light to navigate the seas—hence the name. For our purposes, the light is a deep blue, and the brightness is just enough to silhouette objects on the horizon. It's a peaceful time that's still a bit dark for the average onlooker but a unique moment for those who savor the tranquil pre-dawn.

Astronomical Twilight

Begins even earlier—usually about 90 minutes before sunrise, depending on your location and the time of year. At this point, the sky is a deep, dark blue, and it's when the stars and planets slowly start to fade away. For most of us, this phase might still feel like night, but for astronomers, it's the signal that their window for stargazing is closing.

Catching the Colorful Canvas

The best color displays tend to happen during civil twilight and can begin as early as 40 minutes before the sun makes its grand entrance. This is when you'll see the sky transition through a breathtaking palette of colors. If you're keen to catch the entire show, aim to be in your viewing spot at least 30 to 40 minutes before the scheduled sunrise time.

Sunbeams radiate from behind silhouetted clouds at dawn.

Location and Seasons Affect the View

Remember, the exact timing of these pretty pre-sunrise colors can vary depending on where you are in the world and the season. For example, closer to the equator, the transitions between twilight phases can be quicker, while at higher latitudes, these times can be extended.

During the winter months, the angle of the sun's path relative to the horizon is shallower, which can lead to a longer and potentially more spectacular twilight display. Conversely, in the summer, the twilight period may be shorter but no less beautiful.

Your Personal Sunrise Invitation

So, what's the takeaway? If you want to catch the sky in all its pre-sunrise glory, give yourself a 30- to 40-minute head start on the day. Find a cozy spot, whether it's a beach, a mountain, a quiet street, or even your backyard, and watch as nature paints the sky with the first light of day.

And hey, if you're not a morning person, don't sweat it. The beauty of sunrises is that they happen every day. When you're ready to catch one, it'll be there, offering a brand-new canvas of colors ☺️.

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