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Where will the Sun first rise on January 1, 2000?

Whether the millennium begins in 2000 or 2001 is not the only debate surrounding the New Year's Eve party of the century. Just exactly where the dawn of the new age will take place has become an international argument, with several places claiming to be the first to greet the millennium. Below are several of the more credible candidates.

Caroline Island, Kiribati:

Caroline Island, one of the 33 South Pacific coral atolls that make up the nation of Kiribati (pronounced “Kirabas”), will be the first land to see the dawn as it crosses the International Date Line, signifying the change-over from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000. Kiribati owes this distinction to a relatively recent change in its timekeeping. Made up of three island groups–the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line islands–Kiribati straddles the International Date Line. To the west of the International Date Line lie the Gilberts, to the east stretch the Phoenix and Line islands. This once meant that it could be Monday in the Gilberts but Sunday in the Phoenix Islands–not an easy way to run a country. So in 1993 Kiribati decided to consolidate all three island groups under a single time zone, and selected the Gilbert Islands, west of the Date Line, as the standard (the capital, Tarawa, is located in the Gilberts).

In 1996 Kiribati's time change suddenly caught the attention of its neighbors, as various South Pacific islands began making preparations for a big bash on New Year's 2000. At issue were tourist dollars–revelers would no doubt flock to the place where the New Year's bells would toll first. Kiribati, it seemed, had scooped its island neighbors on the first dawn: its easternmost point, Caroline Island, is the first place the Sun crosses the International Date Line, since the demarcation line had been moved to accommodate Kiribati's time change–even though its longitude is 150°15' west, almost 30 degrees from the 180° meridian.1 Tonga had considered itself the first country that would greet the New Year–and the king of Tonga is reportedly not pleased. The Chatham Islands, part of New Zealand, had also counted on being first. Kiribati, however, will see the first rays of the year 2000 a full 80 minutes before Tonga and 22 minutes before the Chathams.

Gisborne, New Zealand:

This town on the East Cape of New Zealand's North Island has also claimed to be the right place at the right time for New Year's 2000. In strictly geographic terms, Gisborne has a point. At 178°35' east longitude, it is less than two degrees from the International Date Line, but since the Date Line bends east and west rather than sticking to the 180° meridian, Gisborne has to forfeit its position to the various countries who have tailored the time zones to conform to their political borders. Gisborne still claims some distinction in spite of the Kiribati affair–according to the London Times, it is the first place west of the Date Line with good bars.

Balleny Islands, Antarctica:

If the first sunrise is taken to mean the first piece of land to see the dawn on the year 2000, the answer would be the uninhabited islands of Balleny, Antarctica. On January 1, 2000, the Sun will rise over the island at 13:41 UT, whereas Caroline Island, Kiribati, will not see its rays until 15:43 UT. Because of the short rotation of the earth at the poles, the Sun is below the horizon for less than one hour per day in January. But it is an inhospitable place for a New Year's celebration.

Greenwich, England:

If time rather than the sunrise is the determining factor, then Greenwich, England, where each day begins at the prime meridian at 00:00 UT, will mark the official start of the year 2000.

1. The International Date Line, which generally follows the 180° meridian, diverges east or west in certain locations to ensure that most of a country's territory is grouped in the same time zone. The 180° meridian, for example, cuts through the easternmost portion of Russia. Rather than have the country span two different calendar days, the International Date Line diverges from the meridian to approximately 175° west longitude, thereby encompassing all of Russia. In the case of Kiribati, the Date Line loops to 150°15' west longitude to encompass the Phoenix and Line islands.

Did you know?  Since 1990, 29 new nations have been established, most of which emerged as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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