AskDefine | Define twilight

Dictionary Definition

twilight adj : lighted by or as if by twilight; "The dusky night rides down the sky/And ushers in the morn"-Henry Fielding; "the twilight glow of the sky"; "a boat on a twilit river" [syn: dusky, twilight(a), twilit]


1 the time of day immediately following sunset; "he loved the twilight"; "they finished before the fall of night" [syn: dusk, gloaming, nightfall, evenfall, fall, crepuscule, crepuscle]
2 the diffused light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon but its rays are refracted by the atmosphere of the earth
3 a condition of decline following successes; "in the twilight of the empire"

User Contributed Dictionary



From twi- + light; ‘second light, half-light’. Compare Low German twelecht, German Zwielicht.


  • /ˈtwaɪlait/


  1. The soft light in the sky seen before the rising and (especially) after the setting of the sun, occasioned by the illumination of the earth’s atmosphere by the direct rays of the sun and their reflection on the earth.
    I could just make out her face in the twilight.
  2. The time when this light is visible; the period between daylight and darkness.
    It was twilight by the time I got back home.
  3. Any faint light through which something is seen; an in-between or fading condition.
    The twilight of probability. —Locke.


light before rising, and after the setting, of the sun
time between daylight and darkness
faint light; dubious medium


  1. Pertaining to or resembling twilight
    O’er the twilight groves and dusky caves. —Pope.

Extensive Definition

Twilight is the time between dawn and sunrise and the time between sunset and after dusk. Sunlight scattered in the upper atmosphere illuminates the lower atmosphere, and the surface of the Earth is not completely lit or completely dark. The sun itself is not actually visible because it has not yet come over the horizon (sunrise) or it has passed below the horizon (sunset).
Often confused with dusk, twilight is specifically defined as the period before or after night-time during which it is possible to conduct outdoor activities without the aid of artificial light. Due to the unusual, romantic quality of the ambient light at this time, twilight has long been popular with photographers and painters, who refer to it as the "blue hour", after the French expression l'heure bleue.
The collateral adjective of "twilight" is crepuscular (for daylight it is "diurnal" and for night, "nocturnal"). The term is most frequently encountered when applied to certain species of insects and mammals that are most active during that time.


From a scientific perspective, twilight is defined according to the position of the Sun (its centre) relative to the horizon. There are three established and widely accepted subcategories of twilight; civil twilight (brightest), nautical twilight and astronomical twilight (darkest): For these definitions, an ideal horizon 90° from the zenith is used. The altitudes of the sun below the horizon are "true geometric" altitudes, that is, refraction by the atmosphere and other small factors influencing the observed position of the Sun are not to be accounted for.

Civil twilight

This begins in the morning when the center of the Sun is less than 6° below the horizon (the point of civil dawn), and ends at sunrise. Evening civil twilight begins at sunset and ends when the center of the Sun is more than 6° below the horizon (the point of civil dusk).
The brightest stars appear during civil twilight, as well as planets, such as Venus which is known as the 'morning star' and/or 'evening star'. During this period there is enough light from the Sun that artificial sources of light may not be needed to carry on outdoor activities. This concept is sometimes enshrined in laws, like when drivers of automobiles must turn on their headlights, or if the crime of burglary is to be treated as night-time burglary, which carries stiffer penalties in some jurisdictions. A fixed period of time (most commonly 30 minutes after sunset or before sunrise) is typically used in such statutes, rather than how many degrees the Sun is below the horizon. Civil twilight can also be described as the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight

Nautical twilight

This is defined as the time when the center of the Sun is more than 6° below the horizon but less than 12°. At this time, sailors can take reliable star sights of well known stars, using a visible horizon for reference. The end of this period in the evening, or its beginning in the morning, is also the time at which traces of illumination near the sunset or sunrise point of the horizon are very difficult if not impossible to discern (this often being referred to as "first light" before civil dawn and "nightfall" after civil dusk). At the beginning of nautical twilight in the morning (nautical dawn), or at the end of nautical twilight in the evening (nautical dusk), under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other illumination, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible, and the horizon is indistinct. Nautical twilight has military considerations as well. The initialisms BMNT (begin morning nautical twilight) and EENT (end evening nautical twilight) are used and considered when planning military operations. A military unit may treat BMNT and EENT with heightened security (i.e. a process called "stand to" in which everyone pulls security). This is partially due to tactics dating back to the French and Indian War, when combatants on both sides would use BMNT and EENT to launch attacks.

Astronomical twilight

This is defined as the time when the center of the Sun is more than 12° below the horizon but less than 18°. Most casual observers would consider the entire sky already fully dark even when astronomical twilight is just beginning in the evening or just ending in the morning, and astronomers can easily make observations of point sources such as stars, but faint diffuse objects such as nebulae and galaxies can only be properly observed beyond the limit of astronomical twilight. Conceptually, the dimmest stars ever visible to the naked eye —those of the sixth magnitude— will appear in the evening once the Sun falls more than 18° below the horizon (i.e. when astronomical dusk occurs) and disappear when the Sun moves to within 18° of the horizon in the morning (when astronomical dawn occurs); however, due to light pollution, some localities —generally those in large cities— may never have the opportunity to view even fourth-magnitude stars, irrespective of the presence of any twilight at all.


The length of twilight after sunset and before sunrise is heavily influenced by the latitude of the observer; in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, twilight (if at all) can last for several hours (with none at the poles within a month on either side of the winter solstice), while at the equator, it can go from day to night in as little as 20 minutes. This is because at low latitudes the sun's apparent movement is perpendicular to the observer's horizon. Thus a location on the equator will pass through the various twilight zones directly and quickly. As one gets closer to the Arctic and Antarctic circles, the sun's surface moves toward the observer's horizon from a lower angle. The observer's earthly location will pass through the various twilight zones less directly, taking more time. At temperate-zone latitudes, twilight is shortest at or near both equinoxes, slightly longer around the time of the winter solstice, and much longer in late spring and early summer.
Within the polar circles, 24-hour daylight is encountered in summer, and twilight literally lasts for weeks (in the polar fall and spring). In high latitudes outside the polar circles, 24-hour daylight is not seen, but twilight can extend from sunset to sunrise, a phenomenon often referred to as 'white nights'. Above roughly 60.5°N or S (e.g. Anchorage, Yellowknife, Salluit, Helsinki, Tallinn, Saint Petersburg, Stockholm and Oslo), civil twilight lasts all night at midsummer, while above about 54.5°N or S (e.g. Copenhagen, Moscow, Gdańsk, Glasgow, Belfast, Vilnius, Szczecin and Hamburg), nautical twilight lasts all night at midsummer. Astronomical twilight can last all night for several weeks as far from the poles as 48.5°N or S (e.g. London, Vancouver, Matane, Kraków, Prague, Frankfurt and Punta Arenas).

On other planets

Twilight on Mars is longer than on Earth, lasting for up to two hours before sunrise or after sunset. Dust high in the atmosphere scatters light to the night side of the planet. Similar twilights are seen on Earth following major volcanic eruptions.



External links

twilight in Catalan: Crepuscle
twilight in Danish: Tusmørke
twilight in German: Dämmerung
twilight in Estonian: Hämarik
twilight in Modern Greek (1453-): Λυκόφως
twilight in Spanish: Crepúsculo
twilight in Esperanto: Krepusko
twilight in French: Crépuscule
twilight in Italian: Crepuscolo
twilight in Lithuanian: Sutemos
twilight in Hungarian: Szürkület
twilight in Dutch: Schemering
twilight in Japanese: 薄明
twilight in Norwegian: Skumring
twilight in Norwegian Nynorsk: Tussmørker
twilight in Occitan (post 1500): Crepuscul
twilight in Polish: Zmierzch
twilight in Portuguese: Crepúsculo
twilight in Romanian: Crepuscul
twilight in Russian: Заря
twilight in Scots: Gloamin
twilight in Simple English: Twilight
twilight in Slovak: Súmrak
twilight in Finnish: Hämärä
twilight in Thai: สนธยา
twilight in Ukrainian: Сутінки
twilight in Samogitian: Sotemas
twilight in Chinese: 曙暮光

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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