Saturday, April 24, 2010

We golden lads and girls


For Astronomy Day, let's revisit that image I posted Thursday, the Solar Dynamic Observatory ultraviolet false-color pic of the Sun, with the huge solar flare leaping from its surface, to which I added a black dot indicating the size of the Earth.

Consider the roiling, furious bulk of the Sun, stoked by fusion fires at its core, blazing and blasting into space a seemingly limitless envelope of energy that gushes into the depths of space, some infinitesimal fraction of which falls upon the Earth. How much? Take that tiny black dot and back away from your computer until the circle of the Sun on the screen appears half as wide as your little finger held at arm's length. No, really, do it.

And now that tiny black dot you have carried with you -- not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence -- is the actual Earth in relation to the Sun. That dot! That full stop. Catching face-on its own minute share of the Sun's blazing glory, that tiny portion of the gushing stream the dot happens to intercept.

The dot has its own volatility. We have lately experienced what seems like a spate of earthquakes and, of course, the Icelandic volcano. In all of this cosmic violence -- the churning and roiling and spewing and quaking -- you and I, our metabolisms the frailest of cosmic flames, hang on for dear life, remembering those full-stop words of the Bard:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.