What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

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What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Quicksilver » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:17 am UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/48/
"When (if ever) did the Sun finally set on the British Empire?"

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby nigenet » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:27 am UTC

But an eclipse isn't the sun setting, it just goes dark for a bit
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby phlip » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:31 am UTC

xkcd wrote:Two hundred years from now, in April of 2432
Now, I'm no numerologist, but I think there might be something slightly wrong there...

Also, since it's not explicitly mentioned, does anyone want to check that he's correct after accounting for seasons? Most of the islands mentioned are pretty close to the equator, so I imagine the effect is small, but still...

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby rhomboidal » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:44 am UTC

Yeesh. The Pitcairn Islands are like the backyard rat-infested meth-lab shed of the royal British estate.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby CharlieP » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:11 am UTC

phlip wrote:
xkcd wrote:Two hundred years from now, in April of 2432
Now, I'm no numerologist, but I think there might be something slightly wrong there...

Also, since it's not explicitly mentioned, does anyone want to check that he's correct after accounting for seasons? Most of the islands mentioned are pretty close to the equator, so I imagine the effect is small, but still...


The question is essentially - can you draw a Great Circle around the Earth such that all British territories are on one side of it? If the answer is no (which it is), then the sun will never set on the British Empire.

(If the answer were yes, you would then need to check that the centre(s) of your circle wasn't "out of bounds", i.e. north of the Arctic Circle and vice-versa)
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby CharlieP » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:13 am UTC

(I can't help feeling that Randall's "map" isn't quite all that it could have been. An illustration showing day side/night side and how "the Empire" can't all be one or the other would have worked better for me)
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Klear » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:21 am UTC

Highest point of the islands is 347 m. How long would it take to get flooded enough they wouldn't be inhabitable?

Pseudoedit: Never mind, the highest inhabited place on the islands seems to be 180 m, so it would take over 50 000 years at the current sea-level rise rate. From what I could gather, volcanic islands such as this sink by "a few milimetres a year" by themselves, so that would shave a few millennia off the time required, and made sure the island disappears even should the sea stop rising...

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby KarMann » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:32 am UTC

CharlieP wrote:
phlip wrote:
xkcd wrote:Two hundred years from now, in April of 2432
Now, I'm no numerologist, but I think there might be something slightly wrong there...

Also, since it's not explicitly mentioned, does anyone want to check that he's correct after accounting for seasons? Most of the islands mentioned are pretty close to the equator, so I imagine the effect is small, but still...

The question is essentially - can you draw a Great Circle around the Earth such that all British territories are on one side of it? If the answer is no (which it is), then the sun will never set on the British Empire.

(If the answer were yes, you would then need to check that the centre(s) of your circle wasn't "out of bounds", i.e. north of the Arctic Circle and vice-versa)

Actually, north of the Tropic of Cancer, or south of the Tropic of Capricorn. I.e. within about 23.25° of the equator.

Added for clarity: The first sentence referring to where it can't be; the "i.e." referring to where it would have to be.
Last edited by KarMann on Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:33 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Trickster » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:33 am UTC

Is 0.386%% in one of the voteys a typo? Or does it mean 0.00386%?

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby markfiend » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:34 am UTC

Bah. Randall missed the obvious answer. "When the ravens leave the Tower of London, the Kingdom will fall."
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby higgs-boson » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:48 am UTC

Some pages indicate the Kingdom isn't that much happy with the Pitcairn Islands - because they are a very costly part of the Empire.
So, maybe the sun will set sooner than estimated: The first time night falls on Tax Paradise after the Pitcairn Islands left the British Empire.
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby imantodes » Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:10 pm UTC

What nigenet said. Eclipse is not sunset.

If we're worried about events during which the sun is not directly visible even though it is above the horizon (i.e., -not sunset-), then presumably overcast days are more of a concern than eclipse. I'm sure the sun not being visible in the British Empire is a reasonably common event, eclipse or no.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Popup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:43 pm UTC

Almost, but not entirely unrelated factoid:

I looked into this a couple of years ago, and wrote about it on another board, but when I try to re-post it here the board software flags the post as spam. Probably because I added links to googlemaps for all the geographical locations mentioned. I had to remove the links for it to pass.

Anyway, I came to the conclusion that France actually has a better claim on being the country of eternal sun: From Paris to Martinique to French Polynesia to New Caledonia to Reunion and you're back in Paris. And that's without any postage-stamp islets like Pitcairn.

It should also be pointed out that the phrase (popularised by Schiller's Don Juan) originally meant the Spanish empire, on which the sun set for the last time after the Spanish-American war of 1898.


The claim cannot today be made for the US, as there's no permanent US settlement between Guam and the US Virgin Islands. I wonder if one could have made the claim while Germany (and especially Berlin) was still considered occupied territory, under the the administration of the WWII victory powers.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Fire Brns » Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:44 pm UTC

No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby marsilies » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:04 pm UTC

Popup wrote:The claim cannot today be made for the US, as there's no permanent US settlement between Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

I assumed you mean travelling east to west (i.e. the area west of Guam and east of US Virgin Islands), because going west to east, all of US territory is between Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Willl » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:13 pm UTC

Fire Brns wrote:No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;

I got it and appreciated it, but is nobody else concerned about that sailboat?
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The centre of pressure of the sail is well aft of the hull's centroid. By all rights that should be a nightmare to keep on a straight course.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby PolakoVoador » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:15 pm UTC

Willl wrote:
Fire Brns wrote:No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;

I got it and appreciated it, but is nobody else concerned about that sailboat?
Image
The centre of pressure of the sail is well aft of the hull's centroid. By all rights that should be a nightmare to keep on a straight course.


Who said they want to keep a straight course?

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:45 pm UTC

Willl wrote:
Fire Brns wrote:No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;

I got it and appreciated it, but is nobody else concerned about that sailboat?
Image
The centre of pressure of the sail is well aft of the hull's centroid. By all rights that should be a nightmare to keep on a straight course.


Are you sure the boat isn't pointing the other way?

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Mr. Burke » Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:18 pm UTC

The United Kingdom does not own Autonomous Base Areas. She does, however, own Sovereign Base Areas (of Akrotiri and Dhekelia). Being military bases, they do not enjoy any kind of autonomy.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Jonathan589 » Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:22 pm UTC

"The whole process of claiming a colony (on land already occupied by other people) is awfully arbitrary in the first place."

Absolutely right: go west young man, there's nobody there cept a few pesky savages. But they can keep it as long as the grass grows and the water runs. And did anyone involve them in the deal that time France sold all that big parcel of land to the US? Randall is a genius at making us think, although sometimes my mind butterflies off in odd directions.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby MichaelKarnerfors » Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:54 pm UTC

Suggestion: switch reference 3 for this video..

The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained

...which by the way is also made by a guy that has educated people on the cunning use of flags. :)

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Sprocket » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:05 pm UTC

I agree. An eclipse is not a sunset.
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Barstro » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:08 pm UTC

Jonathan589 wrote:"The whole process of claiming a colony (on land already occupied by other people) is awfully arbitrary in the first place."

Absolutely right: go west young man, there's nobody there cept a few pesky savages. But they can keep it as long as the grass grows and the water runs.


Actually, that's the land they aren't allowed to keep. :shock:

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Klear » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:11 pm UTC

Sprocket wrote:I agree. An eclipse is not a sunset.


This is a sunset:
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This is not a sunset:
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby jgh » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:53 pm UTC

"Essentially, the British built their empire by sailing around and sticking flags on random beaches"

It was mostly more: a trader comes home as says "I've bought these great new things, and by the way, I shot a few fuzzy-wuzzies and claimed the land as ours as well". The government administrators (as opposed to the politicians) tended to get really fed up of the news coming in that some brave British adventurer had "brought civilisation" to another slice of some foreign continent, courageously defeating spear-wielding tribal warriors with nothing more than a mere hundred well-trained rifles and the sheer force of British moral superiority. Usually to better secure access to some shiny stones or lumps of dense metal.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby brenok » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:02 pm UTC

A historically accurate representation of the growth of the British Empire:

Spoiler:
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Willl » Wed Jun 05, 2013 12:16 am UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
Willl wrote:
Fire Brns wrote:No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;

I got it and appreciated it, but is nobody else concerned about that sailboat?
Image
The centre of pressure of the sail is well aft of the hull's centroid. By all rights that should be a nightmare to keep on a straight course.


Are you sure the boat isn't pointing the other way?

With the aft edge fixed to the mast this would also be horribly inefficient and extremely unstable. Perhaps the wind is actually coming from the right and the intrepid settlers have Chinese-gybed their conventional Bermuda rig to get a good view of their new kingdom before sailing off to claim another one...

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Popup » Wed Jun 05, 2013 8:02 am UTC

marsilies wrote:
Popup wrote:The claim cannot today be made for the US, as there's no permanent US settlement between Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

I assumed you mean travelling east to west (i.e. the area west of Guam and east of US Virgin Islands), because going west to east, all of US territory is between Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

Yes, I was following an imaginary sun-continuous trajectory.

(Today, though, given the permanent-looking US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sun doesn't set on the US. The sun sets in Afghanistan at about 14:30 GMT, by which time it has already been above the horizon in the US Virgin Islands for five hours.)

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Danno81 » Wed Jun 05, 2013 8:23 am UTC

Interestingly, Iraq was under administration of the British Empire for 12 years:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Mandate_of_Mesopotamia

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Diadem » Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:29 am UTC

I've always wondered how many empires there have been on which the the sun never sets ('never' here meaning 'never during the entire year'). The Spanish and French obviously apply. Do the Portuguese? The Dutch?
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Jun 05, 2013 1:15 pm UTC

Willl wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:
Willl wrote:
Fire Brns wrote:No one mentions The Lion King reference...
;-;

I got it and appreciated it, but is nobody else concerned about that sailboat?
Image
The centre of pressure of the sail is well aft of the hull's centroid. By all rights that should be a nightmare to keep on a straight course.


Are you sure the boat isn't pointing the other way?

With the aft edge fixed to the mast this would also be horribly inefficient and extremely unstable. Perhaps the wind is actually coming from the right and the intrepid settlers have Chinese-gybed their conventional Bermuda rig to get a good view of their new kingdom before sailing off to claim another one...


I'm imagining the boat as pointing roughly 45 degrees away from us, with the boom coming towards us perpendicular to the boat. Perspective? What's that? :P

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Sandman81 » Wed Jun 05, 2013 4:57 pm UTC

The loss of British Indian Ocean Territory would also cause a sunset, I believe.

However, if the Kingdom lost Pitcairn or BIOT at the Spring Equinox for the Southern Hemisphere, the final sunset would not occur for another six months, as British Antarctic Territory extends to the South Pole.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jun 05, 2013 5:40 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:I've always wondered how many empires there have been on which the the sun never sets ('never' here meaning 'never during the entire year'). The Spanish and French obviously apply. Do the Portuguese? The Dutch?


The only current "Empires" without sun-setting are, as mentioned above, the British and the French. And again, as mentioned above, the Spanish had an endless-sun empire until the loss of the Philippines and Cuba around the time of the Spanish-American War.

Portuguese Empire: Yes, at one time.
Spoiler:
There was at one time an endless-sun Portuguese Empire.

The farthest extent of the Portuguese Empire was from Brazil (colony from 1500, independent 1822) to East Timor (explored and first settled in the 1500s, officially a colony in 1702, independent 2002). In between, in addition to Portugal itself, were the Portuguese African colonies (1400s-1975), as well as several small colonies in India and Southeast Asia.

On sunrisesunset.com, I looked up the cities of Dili, Timor-Leste and Machu Picchu, Peru, which is close enough to the western tip of Brazil to serve as an approximation. (Note that neither of these countries observe dailight savings time, although Brazil does.) As both are close to the equator, there is very little variation throughout the year for sunrise or sunset times - less than an hour in each case. In both of these places, the earliest sunrise of the year is in November, and the latest sunrise in July; meanwhile, the earliest sunset is in May-June, and the latest sunset in January-February.

On July 1, the sun rises in Dili at 6:53 am (2153 UTC), and sets in Machu-Picchu at 5:35 pm (2235 UTC), 42 minutes later. This is the minimum overlap; around January 1 the overlap is nearly two hours.

Thus there was no sunset on the Portuguese Empire prior from (at the very latest) 1702 until 1822.

Dutch Empire: Yes, at one time.
Spoiler:
Like the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese, the Dutch had colonies in South America, Africa, and southeast Asia. What is now Indonesia was originally owned by the Dutch East India Company from 1602, and was nationalized as the Dutch East Indies in 1800, until its independence (recognized in 1949) following Japanese occupation during World War II. In the Caribbean, there is still a remnant of the Dutch Empire - the islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are still parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as they have been since the 1600's - Sint Maarten since 1618. (The South American nation of Suriname was a Dutch colony as well until 1954.)

Around January 1, the sun rises in Jayapura, Indonesia (on New Guinea) at 5:33 am (2133 UTC) and sets in Oranjestad, Aruba at 6:25 pm (2225 UTC), 52 minutes later. This is the minimum overlap - in June and July, the overlap is 87 minutes.

Thus, there was no sunset on the Dutch Empire from 1800 (at the very latest) until World War II.

German Empire: Never.
Spoiler:
There was never an endless-sun German Empire.

Brandenburg-Prussia had a few colonies in the Americas from the 1680's until no later than 1720. Its successor state, Imperial Germany, had colonies in Africa and New Guinea from 1884, leased territory in China from 1898, and had German Samoa from 1899, all until the outbreak of World War I, but there were no German colonies in the Americas by that point.

Russian Empire: Never.
Spoiler:
There was never an endless-sun Russian Empire.

The Russian Empire just before 1868 extended from what are now Poland, the Baltic States, and Finland, to Alaska. Just in Alaska, there were months of endless sunshine in the summer months... but the sun set every day in the winter. Around January 1, the sun sets in Klaipėda, Lithuania at 4:13 pm (1413 UTC), and doesn't rise in Juneau, Alaska until 8:45 am (1745 UTC), 3 and a half hours later.

EDIT: Today I Learned that the Russian Empire settled as far southeast as what is now California... specifically, Fort Ross (1812-1842) near the aptly-named Russian River. While this still doesn't give the Russians an endless-sun empire, it does make the margin much closer.

I am also going to use Warsaw (Warszawa), Poland now as my western point of reference. Being further south than Lithuania, it gives us a slightly later sunset time in the winter. Earlier, I had used a map of Imperial Russian expansion which did not include Congress Poland. Congress Poland (1815 - 1864/1867/1916/1918), of which Warsaw was the capital, was in personal union with the Russian Empire... so the ruler was the same as the Russian Emperor, like Scotland and England from 1603 to 1707, only in Poland's case it was much more of a puppet state. At any rate, over time it became less and less autonomous, and historians apparently disagree when this ended and it became for all purposes part of Russia. But I will use Warsaw here to be as generous as possible toward Russia.

So, on January 1, the sun sets in Warsaw at 3:33 PM (1433 UTC), and rises in Healdsburg, California (just east of Fort Ross) at 7:29 AM (1529 UTC) - just under an hour of darkness for the Russian Empire, 1815-1842.

Other candidates: Never.
Spoiler:
Sweden and Denmark both had colonies (or at least settlements) in Africa and the Americas (notably, Denmark had the Virgin Islands until 1917, and still has Greenland), but nothing in Asia or the Pacific.

Two other European countries, Belgium and Italy, had colonies in Africa, but never any in the Americas, Asia, or the Pacific.

The tiny Duchy of Courland (or Kurland), geographically approximant to modern Latvia, also had two colonies in the 1600's - one in Africa, St. Andrews Island (later James Island, now Kunta Kinteh Island) in what is now the Gambia, and one in the Americas, "New Courland" on the Caribbean island of Tobago. Certainly nothing without sunsetting, however.

Several other countries which border the Pacific Ocean acquired territorial possessions in the 20th century, but nothing outside the Pacific Rim - Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Again, nothing the sun didn't set on every night.

Let me know if I missed any others!
Last edited by mathmannix on Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:59 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby speising » Wed Jun 05, 2013 5:59 pm UTC

the Austrian Empire, under Charles V.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jun 05, 2013 6:08 pm UTC

speising wrote:the Austrian Empire, under Charles V.


meh, that's an obvious overlap with the Spanish and Dutch empires... He was King of Naples too, but I'm not considering a Neapolitan colonial empire (or Burgundian colonial empire, or Holy Roman colonial empire)
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Jun 05, 2013 6:59 pm UTC

Of course we all know the reason the sun never sets on the british empire; god wouldn't trust an englishman in the dark.
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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby keithl » Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:24 pm UTC

Satellites.

The UK Ministry of Defence and Astrium operate five "Skynet" geostationary satellites. In spring and fall, each is briefly eclipsed once per day, but never all five at once. None are, AFAIK, populated by restless native populations, though none produce tasty takeaway, either.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby Palpatineli » Wed Jun 05, 2013 10:58 pm UTC

Once someone establishes a lunar colony, the sun sets like only once per eclipse?

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby brenok » Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:01 pm UTC

The sun "sets" on Moon every 28 days.

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Re: What-If 0048: "Sunset on the British Empire"

Postby hemflit » Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:03 am UTC

Eventually—many millennia in the future—an eclipse will come for the island, and the Sun will finally set on the British Empire.


… unless the moon gets far enough away that it can't cause full solar eclipse anymore.


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