In our southernmost corner of North Carolina, one of the South’s most intriguing natural phenomena occurs every fall through winter.

Named one of “10 Incredible Phenomena You Have to See in Fall” by, the south-facing beaches of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands have the rare distinction of running east-west as they parallel the shore. Beginning in late fall, this orientation means that on Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach or Holden Beach and you can watch both the sunrise and sunset over the ocean. In fact during certain months, you can sit on the beach and view this phenomena without having to even move your beach chair!

Sun setting over the ocean in North Carolina's Brunswick Islands

What’s the reason for the natural phenomenon and why does it only occur late fall through early spring?  To find the answer, we went to the experts – the folks who are on a first-name basis with the stars at the Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach. The short answer, according to Ingram Planetarium experts, is that, "Because our beaches are generally oriented to face south and since the sun is far enough south in the late fall through early spring, the sun appears to both rise and set over the ocean off our shoreline.”

Sunset in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.

But, why can’t you see the same thing in the summer, you ask?

Our experts tell us that while we say the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, this only occurs exactly in the East and exactly in the West at the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes (first day of Spring and first day of Fall).  As the Earth revolves around the sun, the sun appears to move north and south of the equator by quite a number of degrees. In the fall, winter and early spring, the sun is so far south of the equator that it rises not in the east, but southeast, and sets not in the west, but southwest.

Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach strives to stimulate interest in and a broader understanding of our earth, our solar system and our universe. The Planetarium even hosts star shows, laser music shows and programs about astronomy, science and space exploration throughout the year.

Planetarium show at Ingram Planetarium

When you visit this fall and winter, take the sunrise/sunset challenge at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Wake up early in the morning and experience the vibrant colors of the expanding sun as it climbs higher and higher over the ocean, awakening the sky with every inch of radiance. Or, capture the last glimpses of daylight as the last effervescent tones of the sun expand over the vast horizon and paints the ocean – all in the same day. We are confident you won’t want to miss this bucket-list activity for it is one of the most scenic fall-nomena this season. 

Sunrise_Sunset Beach

To learn more about North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, and to plan your trip, visit