Difference Between Dawn and Sunrise

Dawn vs Sunrise

All of us know what sunrise means. It is the time of the day when sun appears on the horizon and is clearly visible to us. Though the term is sunrise, it is actually our earth that rotates around the sun and sunrise is dependent upon the part of the earth we live in. There is another word dawn that confuses many as they believe sunrise and dawn to be synonymous. However, the reality is that dawn, also called daybreak, is that time of the day when sunrise has still not taken place. Let take a closer look at the two terms in this article.


Sunrise is that time of the day when sun appears to rise above the horizon for the first time. Though sun is stationary, this apparent motion looks real to us and in all civilizations; it was believed that the earth was stationary, and the sun revolved around our earth. It was left to Copernicus to convince the world that it was our earth and not the sun that was rotating. This gave birth to heliocentric model as late as 17th century.

Technically speaking, sunrise is a fleeting moment when the sun appears to be parallel to the horizon. However, people mistakenly refer to times before and after this moment as sunrise. The time of sunrise is not constant and keeps changing at all places depending upon the latitude, longitude as well as the time zone. Sunrise is also later in time during winters while it is much earlier during summers.

However, for all practical purposes, sunrise is that moment in the day time when you see its top above the horizon.


Dawn is a short period of time before sunrise that is characteristic of a very weak sunlight. This is because the sun is still below the horizon, but we are able to see the effect of light because of the scattering of its rays through a process called refraction. The period between dawn and sunrise is referred to as twilight. This process is repeated in the evenings also as there is some light even after sunset during twilight and there is this particular time called dusk that is similar to dawn in the mornings. We have Astronomical dawn when the sky is not all dark, Nautical dawn where there is sufficient light at the horizon, and finally Civil dawn when there is light enough to distinguish different objects.

What is the difference between Dawn and Sunrise?

• Sunrise is the moment when sun is exactly parallel to the horizon.

• Dawn is the moment when the sun has yet not appeared on the horizon, but there is still some light because of the scattering of sunlight through refraction.

• Dawn takes place earlier than sunrise.

• Dawn is also referred to as daybreak, and it is a time when there is some sunlight when sun has still not risen.

• Dawn takes place some thirty minutes before sunrise.