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. (Click here for a table that will tell you the first sunrise in your town in 2018.)
As the easternmost state in the United States, Mainers boast the first sunlight of 2018 will fall on its shores. However, a site in Massachusetts makes the same claim. A Nantucket astronomer helped resolve the dispute at the dawn of the new millennium.
Massachusetts’ First Sunrise: 7:06 a.m.
Climb to Nantucket’s 111-foot Sankaty Bluff in Siasconset, and you’ll likely see sunrise at 7:06 a.m., before anyone else in the United States.
That is, according to astronomers who tried to settle a dispute in 1999 as the new millennium approached. 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, it hit West Quoddy Head in Lubec.
In 2018, the U.S. Naval Observatory predicts the sun’s rays will strike Siosconset at 7:06 a.m., the same time it will strike Lubec. The Observatory has the Cadillac Mountain sunrise down at 7:09 but the calculation is at sea level so the likely sunrise will be moments earlier. Perhaps another cellphone conference can be arranged.
Maine’s First Sunrise: 7:06 am
West Quoddy Head Light is as picturesque a place as there is to watch the first – well, the first-ish – sunrise, which should happen at 7:06 am. Though 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 7:09 a.m. on the mountain, but calculates it at sea level. So unless we’re missing something, the sun will rise on Cadillac Mountain about a half-minute before it rises in Lubec.
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: 7:11 am
Little Compton, Rhode Island’s easternmost town, will see the state’s first sunrise 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. You won't want to walk to the end of the point at sunrise, though, because the tide will be too high.
If you’re willing to wait another minute, the sun rises on Block Island at 7:12 a.m.
New Hampshire’s First Sunrise: 7:14 am
The Seacoast will see the first sunrise on New Year’s Day in New Hampshire. At 7:14 am, the sun’s first rays will strike the towns of Seabrook, the Hamptons, Rye and New Castle. The sun won’t get to Portsmouth for another minute.
There are plenty of great spots along New Hampshire’s 18-mile seacoast to watch the first sunrise of 2018: 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.
Connecticut’s First Sunrise: 7:14 am
There’s little dispute about where the first dawn will break over Connecticut. The state’s southeasternmost towns -- New London, Groton and Stonington -- will see the sunrise at 7:14 am, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. The sun’s rays probably first fall on Stonington, since it’s the farthest east, but the Observatory’s charts don’t get into the seconds.
Though Connecticut’s first rays appear about eight minutes past the first sunrise in the United States, the region offers many consolations.
Whaling once bought considerable wealth to 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.
The best place to see the first sunrise over Connecticut in 2018 might be the Thames River, which has maritime traffic to watch as well. Or perhaps high up on one of the two Revolutionary-era forts facing each other across the Thames River: Fort Trumbull or Fort Griswold.
Vermont’s First Sunrise: 7:21 am
Vernon, Brattleboro, Putney and Guilford in the southeast corner of Vermont will see the state’s first sunrise at 7:21 a.m. 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; Putney, Vt. By Putneypics - DSC_0050, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8705677; Sakonnet Light By Zhengan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50957093; New London skyline By Pi.1415926535 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65075643