Lāhaina Noon, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Balance the Sun on My Head

WARNING: NEVER look directly at the sun, no matter what your Presidential delusions might be.

With that rule established, I’ll reveal yet another remarkable feature of Hawai‘i: Twice a year here, the sun shines straight down from the top of the sky.

Let me explain.

First, the top of the sky, that point directly over your--yes, your--head, starting from the precise center of the Earth, is called the zenith.

Second, in the tropics, on two days each year, the sun is exactly at the zenith at local noon. This event happens only in the tropics; the sun is never overhead in the temperate or arctic zones of the world, and Hawai‘i is the only (alleged) state of the union within which this moment occurs.

Third, since there was no convenient single term for the day when the sun “is exactly overhead at local noon,” the Bishop Museum planetarium sponsored a contest to name this event. “Lāhaina Noon” was the winner. As everyone who ever mentions Lāhaina says, “Lāhaina” means “cruel sun” in Hawaiian, and yes, it’s hot there. One does not, however, need to be in the town of Lāhaina on Maui to enjoy this event. Anywhere in the tropics will do.

Fourth, yes, anywhere in the tropics will do, but--and as Peewee Herman says, “It’s a big but”--one must be in the right place at the right time.

Fourth, Sub A: Oddly but obviously, Lāhaina noon occurs only once a year exactly on the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north of the equator, on the first day of summer and only once a year exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn, 23.5 degrees south of the equator, on the first day of winter.

Fourth, Sub B: For all other tropical locations, this event occurs twice a year. In the northern hemisphere, the closer a given latitude is to the Tropic of Cancer, the closer the Lāhaina noon dates will be to June 21.

Fifth, for O‘ahu residents, in Honolulu, to be geocentric, and in 2018, to be chronocentric, the Spring Lāhaina Noon will occur on Saturday, May 26, at 12:28 p.m. The Summer Lāhaina Noon will occur on Monday, July 16, at 12:37 p.m.

On those two days, when you go outside, stand in the sunlight, and look down--I told you not to look at the sun--you will have no shadow. In effect, you’re standing on it. Because the sun will shine directly down from the zenith, you and all vertical objects will, in fact, have no shadows. You will be surrounded, enclosed, and fully illuminated by light. Enjoy the moment.


Here is my poem celebrating that moment, title poem from my fifth book:

Lāhaina Noon

Today, I'm a shadowless man.
The sun calls me into the street,
and I walk alone into the light
of noon. The moment has come.

I stand quietly on Front Street
balancing the sun on my head.
My shadow crawls in my ear
to hide in the small, dark world

of my skull. The sun illuminates
the shadow in my skin, and I shine
like a second moon, reflecting
all the light I cannot contain.

Eric Shaffer