We don’t often think about the Earth quietly moving around the sun. Day in and day out, our globe slowly rotates through night and day, summer to winter, and around again. Year after year. Every so often, particular phenomenon occur that can make us stop and pay a bit more attention. Equinoxes and solstices anchor the seasons. Full moons and eclipses bring more awe. Another noticeable event occurs at the “subsolar point”, when the sun reaches its northernmost or southernmost position, before “stopping” at the solstice and heading in the opposite direction.
Subsolar Points and Solar Noon
At the subsolar point the sun is exactly overhead (90°). At this moment, tall objects will have no shadow—such as a signpost, traffic cone, or …you! The subsolar point occurs on two days each year at solar noon only in tropic regions*. Note that solar noon rarely occurs precisely at 12:00pm. The exact date and time depend on your location (see dates and times for Hawaiʻi locations below). Which brings us to…Lāhainā Noon.
*The Earth’s tropic region flanks the Equator, from the Tropic of Cancer (latitude ~23°27′ N) in the northern hemisphere to the Tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23°27′ S) in the southern hemisphere. Since the Tropic of Cancer runs north of the most populated areas of the Hawaiian Islands (from Southpoint, Hawaiʻi 18° 91′ N to Princeville, Kauaʻi 22° 21′ N) and roughly through central Mexico, Hawaiʻi is the only U.S. state within the tropic region. In Hawaiʻi can you experience two subsolar points every year, sometime in May and again in July (shortly before and after the summer solstice).
About Lāhainā Noon
In 1990, Bishop Museum gave the subsolar points the name “Lāhainā Noon”. In ʻōlelo makuahine (Hawaiian language), lā hainā means “cruel sun”. However, in pre-contact Hawaiʻi, the phenomenon was known as “kau ka lā i ka lolo“, which translates as “the sun rests on the brains”. In traditional culture, kau ka lā i ka lolo was considered a time with great mana (power) because a person’s shadow, being no longer visible, was thought to have entered one’s head.
In Hawaiʻi, Lāhainā Noon occurs annually from mid-May to late July at different days and times on different islands. The more northerly islands (Kauaʻi, Oʻahu) tend to see the phenomenon closer to the summer solstice (June 20-22). The more southerly islands (Maui, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi) will experience it earlier in May and later in July.
The exact time of Lāhainā Noon will also vary, since it occurs at solar noon, which is not the same as 12:00pm. Lāhainā Noon typically occurs between 12:15-12:45PM. See below for a current list of dates, times, and locations from Kauaʻi to Hawaiʻi.
Where to experience Lāhainā Noon
Anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands on certain dates in May and July you can experience Lāhainā Noon (see list below). For about an hour around the designated time, look for tall and open lattice objects to observe, such as telephone poles, lamp posts, bike racks, playground structures, yourself (!), or any other tall or latticed object. In Honolulu, a popular spot for observing Lāhainā Noon is the Sky Gate sculpture on the lawn at Honolulu Hale (formerly Honolulu Municipal Building), 530 King St, Honolulu, HI 96813.
2023 Lāhainā Noon dates and times in Hawaiʻi
Lāhainā Noon occurs when the sun’s zenith position or highest point in the day (“high noon”) is directly above (90°), which can only occur in tropic regions (it never reaches 90° outside of the tropics). Notice that Lāhainā Noon begins in Hawaiʻi in May in the southern most locations and moves northward through the Hawaiian Islands. In July after the equinox, the sun is moving in the opposite direction and the process reverses, moving north to south. Listed below is a selected list of dates, times, and locations on islands from Kauaʻi to Hawaiʻi.
All times are local Hawaiian Time (HT)
- May 17 at 12:17 PM. Volcano, Hawaiʻi Island
- May 18 at 12:20 PM. Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi Island
- May 18 at 12:16 PM. Hilo, Hawaiʻi Island
- May 20, 12:19 p.m. Kamuela/Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island
- May 24 at 12:22 PM. Kahului, Maui
- May 24 at 12:23 PM. Lāhainā, Maui
- May 24, 12:24 p.m. Lānaʻi City, Lānaʻi
- May 25-26, 12:25 p.m. Kaunakakai, Molokaʻi
- May 26-27 at 12:28 PM. Honolulu, Oʻahu (Popular viewing location: Sky Gate sculpture at Honolulu Hale, 530 King St, Honolulu, HI 96813)
- May 27 at 12:28 PM. Kailua/Kāneʻhoe, Oʻahu
- May 28-29, 12:29 p.m. Haleʻiwa, O‘ahu
- May 30 at 12:35 PM. Poʻipū, Kauaʻi
- May 31 at 12:35 PM. Līhuʻe, Kauaʻi
- June 2 at 12:35 PM. Princeville, Kauaʻi
- Summer Solstice—June 21, 2023 4:57 am HST: Seasons: Dates of Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter (timeanddate.com)
- July 10 at 12:43 PM. Princeville, Kauaʻi
- July 11-12 at 12:43 PM. Līhuʻe, Kauaʻi
- July 12 at 12:43 PM. Poʻipū, Kauaʻi
- July 14, 12:38 p.m. Haleʻiwa, O‘ahu
- July 15, 12:36/7 p.m. Kailua/Kāneʻhoe, Oʻahu
- July 16 at 12:37 PM. Honolulu, Oʻahu (Popular viewing location: Sky Gate sculpture at Honolulu Hale, 530 King St, Honolulu, HI 96813)
- July 17, 12:34 p.m. Kaunakakai, Molokaʻi
- July 18-19 at 12:33-34 PM. Lānaʻi City, Lānaʻi
- July 18-19 at 12:32-33 PM. Lāhainā, Maui
- July 18 at 12:32 PM. Kahului, Maui
- July 23 at 12:29 PM. Kamuela/Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island
- July 24 at 12:26 PM. Hilo, Hawaiʻi Island
- July 24-25 at 12:30 PM. Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi Island
- July 25-26 at 12:27 PM. Volcano, Hawaiʻi Island
Find another solar noon place and time (sun at 90°): Sunrise and Sunset Calculator (timeanddate.com)
Here’s a map of the current locations of the sub-solar and sub-lunar points. Find another location date and time: https://rl.se/zenith-calendar