Tuesday, September 18, 2012

That strange flower, the sun…

I'm sure I'm not the only one among us who was dazzled by yesterday's APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day): a huge filament of flame blazing outward from the surface of the Sun, a stunning image I kept going back to all day.

I've copied the image above (click to enlarge), and I've added a black dot representing the size of the Earth on the same scale. Yes, our planet is dwarfed, reduced to a dot, by the explosive violence of our star.

This is the one of the two times of the year when my walk to the college at 7 AM -- mostly a west-east trek -- takes me directly into the rising Sun, a gorgeous sphere of molten gold bubbling up ahead where the woody path devolves into the meadows. Of course, flares and filaments and sunspots are not visible to the eye. If I hold out my arm, the tip of my little finger covers the Sun, and none but the most adventurous mind might guess how tiny is our mighty Earth compared to that aureate globe.

Adventurous minds did guess, beginning with Aristarchus. But still, as I walk toward the Sun each morning, I have to remind myself that my every breath is powered by that fire, my every step energized. Every leaf and blade of grass alongside the path leans and reaches for its share. That tiny black dot, and every living thing on it, removed from the Sun's surface by 93 million miles, basks in its glow.

Which is why I added the dot. For you and for me. As a humbling acknowledgement that each step eastward toward the sunrise whittles away an insignificant sliver of that rain of life-giving photons blowing from the surface of our parent star.