Monday, August 26, 2013

Helios


What is this extraordinary object with the black bullet hole?

It is, as you probably guessed, the Sun. The image was made in three wavelengths of ultraviolet light by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory during last year's rare transit of Venus. That black dot is the back side of Venus, as that planet passes directly between us and the Sun's face (the next time this will happen is 2117).

Of course, the human eye is not sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. Those wavelengths, observed by the satellite, are rendered here as visible colors. And so we get this magical image of the roiling face of our star, like some sort of dazzling jewel, a Merlin's globe. Can you imagine holding it in your cupped hands, seething with otherworldly power.

Hold it in you hands! If you took the planet Earth and placed it on the surface of the Sun, it would be four times smaller than the Venus dot, lost in those swirling loops of fire.

Hold it in your hands. Fly like Icarus, unafraid. That's what the imagination is for.