Easternmost Point in the Continental US or First to See the Sun Rise, Are They the Same Place?
Maine is the easternmost state in the continental US.
As the easternmost state in the continental US does the sun rise first at the easternmost point in Maine? The answer is yes, no, and it depends.
Expanding beyond the continental US, even the easternmost point of the US is up for debate. It could technically be the furthest point west.
Some would argue that the honor should go to Pochnoi Point, Semisopochnoi Island, Alaska, since it is located just west of the 180 degree meridian (ignoring the westerly deviation of the international dateline). Accepting this argument, it would be the "first" to see the sunrise of a new day making it the furthest point "east" in the US.
If you include the US territories, the Wake Islands to the west of the international date line would see the sunrise the day before the rest of the US. In the east, the U.S. Virgin Islands would see the sunrise first.
Easternmost Point in the Continental U.S.
The easternmost point in the contiguous US is West Quoddy Head in Lubec, ME. Sail Rock, just offshore (and probably occasionally under water), is actually east of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. Since it is offshore and not inhabitable, is it technically part of the contiguous US?
Eastport, ME is considered the eastern most city in the continental US and often reported as the first to see the sunrise. But, Eastport is north and west of Lubec and West Quoddy Head.
Are you following this? West is east and soon we'll see that the sun rises earlier west than east.
Easternmost point in the continental US.
First to See the Sunrise in the Continental US
So, now that we have decided that we can't decide where the easternmost point in the US is, can we at least determine where the sun rises first? According to the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department the answer to this question is no. The first to see the sunrise varies depending on the season.
According to an article in Yankee Magazine in January, 1972 by Blanton C. Wiggin the first place to see the sunrise in Maine:
- October 7 to March 6 Cadillac Mountain, Maine
- March 7 to March 24 West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Lubec, Maine
- March 25 to September 18 Mars Hill, Maine
- September 19 to October 6 West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine
On New Year's Day, Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park sees the first sunlight of the year. In the winter, because the north pole is tilted away from the sun, the sun appears further south in the sky. This tilting away from the sun moves the place to see the first sunrise also further south. Cadillac Mountain is approximately 30 miles south and 60 miles west of West Quoddy Head.
Forty miles west and 120 miles north of West Quoddy Head, Mars Hill Mountain is only 2 miles east of the Canadian border. In the summer, the north pole is tilted toward the sun and the sun appears further north in the sky. This tilting toward the sun moves the first sunrise to a location further north. Being further north and at a higher elevation, Mars Hill Mountain sees the sunrise before West Quoddy Head.
West Quoddy Head may be the eastern mostpoint of the continental US, but it is the first to see the sunrise only 34 days a year! At the March and September Equinox, the sun is neither tilted away from nor toward the earth. The easternmost point of the continental US is the first to see the sunrise around these days.
Even more ironic, the highest point in Maine, Mount Katadhin is never the first to see the sunrise.
"Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, 2004" video posted on YouTube by mattartz October 18, 2007
Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain - Acadia National Park, 2004
Where does this fit in the discussion?
Just east and north of West Quoddy Head is Campobello Island and the summer home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. While Campobello Island is part of Canada, the FDR summer home is part of the US National Park Service. You can drive to Campobello Island from the US, but from mainland Canada you have to take a ferry (actually 2 ferries).
Simple Question, No Simple Answers
As you can see, what started as a simple question has no simple answers. So, the next time you are cruising up U.S. Route 1 in Downeast Maine make a few stops and sort this out for yourself.
© 2012 Mark Shulkosky